Lactational transfer of sulforaphane-N-acetylcysteine in vivo and in human breast milk. Academic Article uri icon


  • Sulforaphane (SFN) is a bioactive phytonutrient found in cruciferous vegetables. There is a lack of detailed information on the lactational transfer of SFN and SFN metabolites, and potential pharmacological effects on breastfeeding infants. We carried out two maternal supplementation studies in a mouse model, wherein lactating dams received either vehicle, 300 or 600ppm SFN from postnatal day (PND) 1 to 5, or in a second experiment, vehicle or 600ppm SFN from PND 1 to 14. The parent compound was only detectable in milk and plasma from dams receiving 600ppm SFN for five days. The predominant metabolite SFN-N-acetylcysteine (SFN-NAC) was readily detected in milk from dams receiving 300 and 600ppm SFN for five days or 600ppm for 14days. Maternal SFN-NAC plasma levels were elevated in both 600ppm groups. Maternal hepatic and pulmonary expression of NRF2-related genes, Nqo1, Gsta2, Gstm1, and Gstp1, were significantly increased, generally following a dose-response; however, offspring induction varied. PND5 neonates in the 600-ppm group exhibited significantly elevated expression of Nqo1, Gsta2, and Gstp1 in liver, and Gstm1 and Gstp1 in lung. Findings support maternal dietary supplementation with SFN induces NRF2-related gene expression in neonates via lactational transfer of SFN-NAC. However, NQO1 enzyme activity was not significantly elevated, highlighting the need to optimize dosing strategy. Additionally, in a pilot investigation of lactating women consuming a typical diet, without any purified SFN supplementation, 7 out of 8 breast milk samples showed SFN-NAC above the limit of quantification (LOQ). Notably, the one sample below the LOQ was collected from the only participant who reported no consumption of cruciferous vegetables in the past 24h. The parent compound was not detected in any of the human breast milk samples. Overall, these data indicate lactational transfer of SFN-NAC at dietary relevant levels. Future studies are needed to evaluate pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of lactational transfer for potential preventive or therapeutic effects in breastfeeding children.

published proceedings

  • Toxicol Appl Pharmacol

altmetric score

  • 19

author list (cited authors)

  • Shore, R., Behlen, J., McBee, D., Prayaga, K., Haugen, F., Craig, L., ... Johnson, N.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Shore, Ross||Behlen, Jonathan||McBee, Dylan||Prayaga, Keerthana||Haugen, Faith||Craig, Lenore||Shields, Michael||Mustapha, Toriq||Harvey, Navada||Johnson, Natalie

publication date

  • December 2023