Human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) are complex sugars which are found in breast milk at significant concentrations and with unique structural diversity. These sugars are the fourth most abundant component of human milk after water, lipids, and lactose and yet provide no direct nutritional value to the infant.
Recent research has highlighted that HMOs have various functional roles to play in infant development. These sugars act as prebiotics by promoting growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria thereby generating short-chain fatty acids which are critical for gut health. HMOs also directly modulate host-epithelial immune responses and can selectively reduce binding of pathogenic bacteria and viruses to the gut epithelium preventing the emergence of a disease. This review covers current knowledge related to the functional biology of HMOs and their associated impact on infant gut health.