Main content area

Vitamin B12 and its binding proteins in milk from cow and buffalo in relation to bioavailability of B12

Fedosov, Sergey N., Nexo, Ebba, Heegaard, Christian W.
Journal of dairy science 2019 v.102 no.6 pp. 4891-4905
Holstein, binding proteins, bioavailability, buffalo milk, buffaloes, casein, chymotrypsin, cows, crossing, digestion, herds, histidine, human nutrition, humans, intestines, milk, pH stability, proteolysis, secretion, sow milk, sows, trypsin, vitamin B12
Milk is an important source of highly bioavailable vitamin B12 (cobalamin) in human nutrition. In most animal products, vitamin B12 is strongly bound to various specific protein carriers. The 2 vitamin B12-specific proteins, predominantly transcobalamin (TC) and haptocorrin (HC), were earlier found in milk from Holstein Friesian cows and in human or sow milk, respectively. As the type of vitamin B12 binders may influence bioavailability of the vitamin, we examined vitamin B12 carriers in pooled milk specimens derived from European and Indian cow and buffalo herds. The total endogenous vitamin B12 concentration was comparable in all milk pools (≈3 nM), but the vitamin carriers varied considerably: TC + caseins in Danish cows, TC + HC in Indian cows and buffaloes, and mainly HC in Italian buffaloes. Danish cow milk contained half as much TC as vitamin B12, and the surplus vitamin was all attached via a single coordination bond to abundantly available histidine residues of casein. The specific binding proteins in Indian cow milk (TC + HC) approximately matched the molar content of vitamin B12. Milk from the 2 buffalo breeds contained more specific binders than vitamin B12, and the surplus proteins included the unsaturated TC ≈ 3 nM (Indian stock), or both TC ≈ 4 nM and HC ≈ 23 nM (Italian stock). The abundant HC of the latter sample bound nearly all endogenous vitamin B12. We tested (in vitro) the transfer of vitamin B12 from milk proteins to human carriers, involved in the intestinal uptake. The bovine TC-vitamin B12 complex rapidly dissociated at pH 2 (time of half reaction, τ1/2 < 1 min, 37°C) and was susceptible to digestion with trypsin + chymotrypsin (pH 7.5). Transfer of vitamin B12 from the precipitated bovine casein (pH 2) to human carriers proceeded with τ1/2 ≈ 7 min (37°C) and τ1/2 ≈ 35 min (20°C). Liberation of vitamin B12 from buffalo HC was hampered because of its pH stability and slow proteolysis. Nutritional availability of vitamin B12 is expected to be high in cow milk (with TC-vitamin B12 and casein-vitamin B12 complexes) but potentially constrained in buffalo milk (with HC-vitamin B12). This especially concerns the Italian buffalo milk, where a high excess of HC was found. We speculate whether the isolated stock of Italian buffalo maintained the ancestral secretion of carriers (HC ≫ vitamin B12, TC ≈ 0), whereas intensive crossbreeding of cows and buffaloes from other regions caused a change to TC ≤ vitamin B12, with low or absent HC. The substitution of HC by less sturdy carriers is apparently more beneficial to human consumers as far as vitamin B12 bioavailability is concerned.