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Thymus size and head circumference at birth and the development of allergic diseases


C. S. Benn, Department of Epidemiology Research, Statens Serum Institut, 5 Artillerivej, DK-2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark. E-mail:


Background The positive association between a large head circumference at birth and total serum IgE levels has been suggested to be due to negative associations between head circumference at birth and thymus development and between thymus development and total serum IgE levels.

Objectives To examine the associations between head circumference and thymus size at birth and the development of allergic disease.

Methods The size of the thymus was assessed by sonography during the first week of life in 149 healthy term infants. Information on birth characteristics and mode of delivery was collected at delivery. The presence of allergic disease was assessed 5 years later by mailed questionnaires, which were returned by 85% of the eligible families.

Results At birth, head circumference was positively associated with thymus size (P < 0.001). In all, 27 (23%) of the children had developed at least one allergic disease. Multivariate analysis revealed that both parental allergy (Prevalence Ratio and 95% CI) = 3.18 (1.49–6.78)) and caesarean delivery (2.62 (1.48–4.64)) were independently correlated with allergic disease, whereas thymus size was not.

Conclusions Our study does not support that a large head circumference is associated with a small thymus size, nor that a small thymus size is associated with allergic disease. Whether thymus size at birth is related to total serum IgE levels still remains to be elucidated.