Skip to content

What is lactoferrin?

Lactoferrin (also known as lactotransferrin) is a milk-derived multifunctional glycoprotein that plays a very important role in different physiological processes in the human body, such as iron regulation, immune response, and defence mechanisms against pathogens. Lactoferrin is also present in mucous secretions (tears and saliva, among others), in neutrophils, and in blood.

Thanks to its wide distribution within the main biological fluids, lactoferrin is one of the main lines of defence of the organism.

Lactoferrin belongs to the family of transferrins, a group of proteins capable of combining with iron ions or molecules and carrying them in the blood flow. The great affinity of lactoferrin for iron ions is related to its structure, which has the shape of a butterfly. The three-dimensional structure of lactoferrin is formed by two symmetrical domains (lobes N and C) or “wings”, connected to each other by a central region or hinge. This shape enables lactoferrin to combine one iron molecule in each lobe or “wing” (two in total).

Three types of lactoferrin can be identified, depending on whether the lactoferrin molecule is bound to iron molecules: apolactoferrin (iron-free), monoferric or partial form (combined to an iron molecule), and hololactoferrin (combined to two iron molecules).

Adlerova L., Bartoskova A., Martin F. (2008). Lactoferrin: A review. Veterinarni Medicina. 53. 457-468.

WHERE IS LACTOFERRIN FOUND?

Lactoferrin is a protein produced by glandular epithelial cells of several species of mammals, including humans, cows, goats, horses, camels, dogs, rodents, and even fish.

Lactoferrin predominates in milk and colostrum, although it can also be found in mucous secretions (saliva, tears, nasal secretions, bile, pancreatic juice, gastric juices, seminal fluid, and vaginal fluid, among others), in the secondary granules of neutrophiles, and in blood. Some studies claim that the protein expression of lactoferrin can be detected even during embryo development.

García-Montoya IA, Cendón TS, Arévalo-Gallegos S, Rascón-Cruz Q. Lactoferrin a multiple bioactive protein: an overview. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2012 Mar;1820(3):226-36.

Ward P.P., Mendoza-Meneses M., Mulac-Jericevic B., Cunningham G.A., Saucedo-Cardenas O., Teng C.T., Conneely O.M. (1999): Restricted spatiotemporal expression of lactoferrin during murine embryonic development. Endocrinology, 140, 1852–1860.

WHERE IS LACTOFERRIN OBTAINED FROM?

Lactoferrin present in cosmetic products, food supplements, dairy products, and formula milk, among others, can be obtained through:
1) Isolation and purification of natural lactoferrin from milk and colostrum from different mammals (mainly cows and pigs, although it can also be obtained from many other species).

2) Expression and purification of recombinant lactoferrin (synthetic lactoferrin) through biotechnological techniques, which allow to use bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and even viruses to produce large amounts of this protein in industrial bioreactors.

3) Production of recombinant lactoferrin (also using biotechnology) using transgenic animal (for example, cows and goats) and plant species (for example, rice, corn, tomato, etc).

All strategies that are currently used to obtain lactoferrin with commercial purposes guarantee its quality, safety, and effectiveness.

García-Montoya IA, Cendón TS, Arévalo-Gallegos S, Rascón-Cruz Q. Lactoferrin a multiple bioactive protein: an overview. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2012 Mar;1820(3):226-36.