Modification of protein structures by altering the whey protein profile and heat treatment affects in vitro static digestion of model infant milk formulas†
Heat treatments induce changes in the protein structure in infant milk formulas (IMFs). The present study aims to investigate whether these structural modifications affect protein digestion. Model IMFs (1.3% proteins), with a bovine or a human whey protein profile, were unheated or heated at 67.5 °C or 80 °C to reach 65% of denaturation, resulting in six protein structures. IMFs were submitted to in vitro static gastrointestinal digestion simulating infant conditions. During digestion, laser light scattering was performed to analyze IMF destabilization and SDS-PAGE, OPA assay and cation exchange chromatography were used to monitor proteolysis. Results showed that, during gastric digestion, α-lactalbumin and β-lactoglobulin were resistant to hydrolysis in a similar manner for all protein structures within IMFs (p > 0.05), while the heat-induced denaturation of lactoferrin significantly increased its susceptibility to hydrolysis. Casein hydrolysis was enhanced when the native casein micelle structure was modified, i.e. partially disintegrated in the presence of lactoferrin or covered by heat-denatured whey proteins. The IMF destabilization at the end of the gastric digestion varied with protein structures, with larger particle size for IMF containing native casein micelles. During intestinal digestion, the kinetics of protein hydrolysis varied with the IMF protein structures, particularly for IMFs containing denatured lactoferrin, exhibiting higher proteolysis degree (67.5 °C and 80 °C vs. unheated) and essential amino acid bioaccessibility (67.5 °C vs. unheated). Overall, the protein structures, generated by modulating the whey protein profile and the heating conditions, impacted the IMF destabilization during the gastric phase and the proteolysis during the entire simulated infant digestion.