Author(s): Prescott SL, Macaubas C, Smallacombe T, Holt BJ, Sly PD,
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Abstract BACKGROUND: In the past 20-30 years, there has been an increase in prevalence of allergic respiratory diseases, particularly amongst children. This study is a prospective analysis of the postnatal maturation of T-helper cell (Th) responses to aeroallergens in atopic and non-atopic infants. METHODS: We measured mononuclear-cell proliferative and cytokine responses to specific allergens and tetanus toxoid in blood samples from atopic and non-atopic infants every 6 months from birth to 2 years of age. Cytokine analyses of responses to housedust-mite allergen used ELISA and reverse-transcriptase PCR. We also measured responses to Fel d1 (cat allergen) and tetanus toxoid. FINDINGS: Samples from 18 atopic and 13 non-atopic infants showed low-level Th2-skewed allergen-specific responses at birth, with little accompanying specific interferon-gamma production. Neonatal Th2 responses were lower in the atopic group than in the non-atopic group; the differences were significant for interleukin-4 (mRNA: beta-actin ratio 0.48 [SE 0.15] vs 0.15 [0.06], p=0.049), interleukin-6 (4750  vs 1352  pg/mL culture fluid, p=0.003), interleukin-10 (1162  vs 485 , p=0.015), and interleukin-13 (7.1 [0.9] vs 0.9 [0.3], p=0.008). There was rapid suppression of Th2 responses during the first year of life in non-atopic children, but there was consolidation of responses in atopic children, associated with defective neonatal interferon-gamma production. INTERPRETATION: The continuation of fetal allergen-specific Th2 responses during infancy is a defining feature of the inductive phase of atopic disease, and is associated with decreased capacity for production of the Th1 cytokine interferon y by atopic neonates. These findings provide a plausible mechanism for persistence of the fetal Th2 responses during early childhood in atopic individuals and subsequent expression of disease.
This article was published in Lancet
and referenced in Journal of Neonatal Biology