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Lactoferrin, a key molecule in immune and inflammatory processes

Publication: Biochemistry and Cell Biology
2 December 2011


Lactoferrin (Lf) belongs to the family of antimicrobial molecules that constitute the principal defense line of nonvertebrate organisms. In human immunity, their roles are considerably extended, and actually exceed mere direct antimicrobial properties. As a result, Lf is involved in both innate and adaptive immunities where its modulating effects not only help the host fight against microbes but also protect the host against harmful effects of inflammation. Such beneficial effects have been noticed in studies using dietary Lf, without the experimenters always explaining the exact modes of action of Lf. Effects on mucosal and systemic immunities are indeed often observed, which make the roles of Lf tricky to decipher. It is now known that the immunomodulatory properties of Lf are due to its ability to interact with numerous cellular and molecular targets. At the cellular level, Lf modulates the migration, maturation, and functions of immune cells. At the molecular level, in addition to iron binding, interactions of Lf with a plethora of compounds, either soluble or cell-surface molecules, account for its modulatory properties. This paper reviews our current understanding of the mechanisms that explain the regulatory properties of Lf in immune and inflammatory processes.


La lactoferrine (Lf) appartient à la famille des molécules antimicrobiennes constituant la principale ligne de défense des invertébrés. Chez l’Homme, leurs rôles dépassent largement les propriétés antimicrobiennes. En effet, la Lf est impliquée dans les immunités innée et acquise où ses effets modulateurs procurent à l’hôte une protection contre les microbes et les conséquences néfastes de l’inflammation. De tels effets ont été observés lors d’expérimentations utilisant la Lf dans l’alimentation, mais où les mécanismes d’action n’ont pas toujours pu être expliqués. Des effets sur les immunités mucosale et systémique ont en effet souvent été détectés, rendant les rôles de la Lf difficiles à préciser. Il est désormais admis que les propriétés immunomodulatrices de la Lf sont dues à sa capacité d’interaction avec de nombreuses cibles moléculaires et cellulaires. A l’échelle cellulaire, la Lf module la migration, la maturation et les fonctions des cellules immunitaires. A l’échelle moléculaire, les propriétés modulatrices de la Lf sont dues à sa capacité à fixer le fer, mais aussi et surtout à ses interactions avec de nombreuses cibles, solubles ou exprimées à la surface des cellules. Cette revue fait le point de nos connaissances sur les mécanismes pouvant expliquer les propriétés régulatrices de la Lf dans les processus immunitaires et inflammatoires.

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cover image Biochemistry and Cell Biology
Biochemistry and Cell Biology
Volume 90Number 3June 2012
Pages: 252 - 268


Received: 27 July 2011
Revision received: 28 August 2011
Accepted: 12 September 2011
Version of record online: 2 December 2011


This article is part of Special Issue entitled Lactoferrin and has undergone the Journal’s usual peer review process.


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Key Words

  1. lactoferrin
  2. immunity
  3. inflammation
  4. milk protein


  1. lactoferrine
  2. immunité
  3. inflammation
  4. protéine du lait



Dominique Legrand
UMR 8576 CNRS / Université des Sciences et Technologies de Lille, Unité de Glycobiologie Structurale et Fonctionnelle, IFR 147, F-59650 Villeneuve d’Ascq, France.

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135. The clinical efficacy of a bovine lactoferrin/whey protein Ig-rich fraction (Lf/IgF) for the common cold: A double blind randomized study
136. Impact of dairy products on biomarkers of inflammation: a systematic review of randomized controlled nutritional intervention studies in overweight and obese adults
137. Antimicrobial Peptides: Their History, Evolution, and Functional Promiscuity
138. A bioinspired hybrid silica–protein material with antimicrobial activity by iron uptake
139. Studies on the Immunomodulatory Effects of Lactoferrin in Rats Infected with E. coli
140. Lactoferrin, a bird’s eye view

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