Background Variations in early intestinal colonization patterns have been implicated in the predispostion to allergic disease through effects on mucosal and systemic immune function.
Methods Colonization patterns and mucosal IgA production at 6 months of age were examined in relation to early exposures, systemic immune development and early allergic outcomes. This was performed in a cohort (n=189) who had received either Lactobacillus acidophilus or a placebo since birth.
Results Children who developed sensitization to one or more allergens by 12 months of age had significantly higher total (but not secretory) IgA levels at 6 months (P=0.024), but this was independent of probiotic treatment. There were no relationships between colonization patterns and IgA (total or secretory IgA) levels or allergic outcomes (sensitization, atopic dermatitis or food allergies). Breastfeeding, and the use of yoghurt or probiotic supplements were independently associated with significantly higher proportions of ‘favourable’ lactobacilli and bifidobacteria species. Caesarean delivery and the use of antibiotics during the first 6 months were not associated with significant variations in colonization. Higher proportions of ‘favourable’ bacteria (notably bifidobacteria) were associated with reduced production of most cytokine response to allergens, but increased expression of regulatory cell markers (P=0.009) and transforming growth factor-β (P=0.016).
Conclusion ‘Favourable’ colonization, particularly with bifidobacteria, was associated with effects on cellular immune function, but this was not associated with mucosal immunity (secretory IgA) or reduced risk of allergic disease.
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