Ante-natal determinants of neonatal immune responses to allergens

Graham Stuart Devereux, Robert Norman Barker, Anthony Seaton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective This prospective study determined whether the risk factors for asthma and atopic disease, namely family history of atopic disease, maternal smoking, birth order, or maternal dietary intake of antioxidant vitamins, exert antenatal effects on the fetal immune system that may predispose to childhood atopy.

Methods The T helper (Th) cell proliferative responses of cord blood mononuclear cells (CBMC) from a sample of 223 neonates, representative of children born to a cohort of 2000 pregnant women, were measured and related to family, maternal and environmental factors associated with the pregnancy.

Results The magnitude of CBMC-proliferative responses to allergens increased significantly in association with a family history of atopic disease or maternal smoking, and decreased significantly with increasing birth order and high maternal dietary intake of vitamin E. The epidemiological association between birth order and atopy may therefore be a consequence of antenatal influences rather than of protective effects of childhood infections. The association between maternal intake of vitamin E and CBMC responsiveness suggests that diet during pregnancy may influence the fetal immune system in such a way as to modulate the risk of childhood atopy.

Conclusion These results provide a new insight into the aetiology of atopic disease by demonstrating that the maternal environmental risk factors for atopy, diet, birth order and smoking, influence the development of the fetal immune system. This raises the prospect of preventative public health interventions during pregnancy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-50
Number of pages8
JournalClinical & experimental allergy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2002


  • atopy
  • T helper cells
  • antenatal influences
  • smoking
  • birth order
  • vitamin E


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