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Long-term effects of prenatal and postnatal environments on adolescent immunocompetence

Recent research has considered the fetal and infant origins of several adult cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, but the longterm consequences of early environments for human immune function remain to be investigated.  With collaborators at the Carolina Population Center and the Office of Population Studies, we are investigating the association between prenatal undernutrition and adolescent immunocompetence in the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Study


Adolescents who were born small-for-gestational age have been found to be less likely to mount an adequate antibody response to vaccination than appropriate- for-gestational age peers.  High rates of diarrhea in early infancy increase the likelihood of an adequate antibody response, as did rapid weight gain in infancy.  Thymic hormone production in adolescence was also enhanced in individuals who grew rapidly in infancy, and reduced in those born small-for-gestational age. 

These findings provide support for the importance of fetal and early infant programming of immune function.  Additional research is needed to explore the moderators of early environment effects, the mechanisms linking these environments to later outcomes, and their specific immunological consequences. 

Relevant Publications

McDade, T.W., Kuzawa, C., Adair, L.S., and M. Beck (2004).  Prenatal and early postnatal environments are significant predictors of IgE concentration in Filipino adolescents.  Clinical and Experimental Allergy 34: 44-50.

McDade, T.W., Beck, M.A., Kuzawa, C. and L.S. Adair (2001).  Prenatal undernutrition, postnatal environments, and antibody response to vaccination in adolescence.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 74: 543-548.