Accurate postmortem estimation of breastfeeding status for archaeological or forensic neonatal remains is difficult. Confident identification of milk-specific proteins associated with these remains would provide direct evidence of breast milk consumption. We used liquid chromatography coupled to tandem mass spectrometry (MS) to confidently identify beta-lactoglobulin-1 (LGB1) and whey acidic protein (WAP), major whey proteins associated with a neonatal dog (Canis lupus familiaris) skeleton (430–960 cal AD), from an archaeological site in Hokkaido, Japan. The age at death of the individual was estimated to be approximately two weeks after birth. Protein residues extracted from rib and vertebra fragments were analyzed and identified by matching tandem MS spectra against the dog reference proteome. A total of 200 dog protein groups were detected and at least one peptide from canine LGB1 and two peptides from canine WAP were confidently identified. These milk proteins most probably originated from the mother’s breast milk, ingested by the neonate just before it died. We suggest the milk diffused outside the digestive apparatus during decomposition, and, by being absorbed into the bones, it partially preserved. The result of this study suggests that proteomic analysis can be used for postmortem reconstruction of the breastfeeding status at the time of death of neonatal mammalian, by analyzing their skeletal archaeological remains. This method is also applicable to forensic and wildlife studies.
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