Background Recent evidence suggests that atopic disease may in part be mediated by fetal growth, as well as exposure to infectious disease early in life. Few studies have been able to evaluate these associations simultaneously, or to investigate prospectively the long-term effects of early environments while adequately controlling for potentially confounding variables.
Objective To examine how prenatal growth and infectious disease in infancy are related to total IgE production in adolescence.
Methods Ninety-nine adolescents (aged 14–15 years) were selected from a larger cohort study according to the following criteria: full-term birth, currently healthy, and small-for-gestational age (N=53) or appropriate-for-gestational age (N=46). Plasma total IgE was measured with ELISA, and analysed in relation to anthropometric, nutritional, and environmental quality data collected prospectively beginning in the third trimester prior to birth.
Results Each episode of infectious morbidity recorded at bimonthly intervals in the first 6 months of life was associated with a 0.12 log IU/mL reduction in total IgE in adolescence (P=0.004). Prenatal undernutrition was associated with increased adolescent IgE, but only under conditions of an unsanitary household environment (P=0.002). Each additional kilogram gained per month in the first 6 months of life was associated with an increase in adolescent IgE of 0.74 log IU/mL (P=0.03). Each quartile increase in weekly household income at the time of blood sampling was associated with a 0.10 log IU/mL reduction in total IgE (P=0.02).
Conclusion Infectious disease in infancy, as well as interactions between prenatal and postnatal environments, appear to have long-term effects on adolescent total IgE production. Future research should investigate the mechanisms behind these effects, and their implications for symptoms of atopic disease.
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