Breastmilk has many documented beneficial effects on the developing human infant, but the components of breastmilk that influence these developmental pathways have not been fully elucidated. Increasing evidence suggests that non-coding RNAs encapsulated in extracellular vesicles (EVs) represent an important mechanism of communication between the mother and child. Long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) are of particular interest given their key role in gene expression and development. However, it is not known whether breastmilk EVs contain lncRNAs.
Karolinska Institute researchers used qRT-PCR to determine whether EVs isolated from human breastmilk contain lncRNAs previously reported to be important for developmental processes. They detected 55 of the 87 screened lncRNAs in EVs from the 30 analyzed breastmilk samples, and CRNDE, DANCR GAS5, SRA1 and ZFAS1 were detected in >90% of the samples. GAS5, SNHG8 and ZFAS1 levels were highly correlated (Spearman’s rho>0.9; P<0.0001), which may indicate that the loading of these lncRNAs into breastmilk EVs is regulated by the same pathways. The detected lncRNAs are important epigenetic regulators involved in processes such as immune cell regulation and metabolism. They may target a repertoire of recipient cells in offspring and could be essential for child development and health. Further experimental and epidemiological studies are warranted to determine the impact of breastmilk EV-encapsulated lnRNAs in mother to child signaling.