Background: Lead exposure and total immunoglobulin E (IgE) have been shown to be positively related in animals and humans even at lead levels below those recognized as toxic. In the last decades, exposure to lead has become more frequent in urban areas of industrialized as well as of developing countries where IgE-mediated allergy prevalence has also increased.
Methods: We examined for the first time the relationship between in utero exposure to lead and cord blood total IgE in two samples of 137 and 237 mother–newborn pairs, respectively, recruited in Paris.
Results: Cord blood IgE was positively related to hair lead level at birth, providing an integrated measure of long-term exposure in utero, in each cohort (Spearman's coefficient r = 0.32, P < 0.001 and r = 0.19, P < 0.01, respectively) and in the combined cohort (r = 0.21; P < 0.01). The relationship appeared to be more pronounced in newborns of nonallergic mothers (r = 0.24; P < 0.01) than in those of allergic mothers (r = 0.12). This could be due to the fact that familial history of allergy, the strongest determinant of IgE development, may overshadow the influence of lead on IgE in the offspring.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest a possible intervention of environmental exposure besides genetic factors in early life development of IgE production. Further studies are needed to confirm the finding.