Serum immunoglobulin A concentration in infancy, but not human milk immunoglobulin A, is associated with subsequent atopic manifestations in children and adolescents: a 20-year prospective follow-up study


Dr Maria Pesonen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Control of Hypersensitivity Diseases, Topeliuksenkatu 41 a A, FI-00250 Helsinki, Finland. E-mail:


Background Serum and secretory IgA concentrations have been suggested to be inversely associated with allergic symptoms in children. Furthermore, low maternal milk IgA concentration has been suggested to be associated with the development of cow's milk allergy.

Objective Our aim was to explore whether the serum IgA concentrations in infancy and the IgA concentration of maternal milk predict atopic manifestations in childhood and up to age 20 years.

Methods A cohort of 200 unselected full-term newborns was prospectively followed up from birth to age 20 years with measurement of serum total IgA at ages 2 and 6 months. The mothers were encouraged to maintain exclusive breastfeeding for as long as possible. Total IgA concentration of maternal milk was measured at birth (colostrum, n=169) and at 2 (n=167) and 6 (n=119) months of lactation. The children were re-assessed at ages 5, 11 and 20 years for the occurrence of allergic symptoms, with skin prick testing and measurement of serum IgE.

Results Children and adolescents with respiratory allergic symptoms and sensitization had a higher serum IgA concentration at age 2 months than the non-atopic subjects. Colostrum and breast milk IgA concentrations were not associated with the development of allergic symptoms in the recipient infant. However, maternal milk IgA concentration at 6 months of lactation was inversely associated with elevated serum total IgE and positive skin prick test to tree pollen in the offspring at age 20 years.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance Increased serum IgA concentration at age 2 months is associated with the development of subsequent allergic symptoms and sensitization in childhood and adolescence. Maternal milk IgA concentrations are not associated with subsequent allergic symptoms in the recipient infant. The present study provides novel information on the role of IgA in the development of respiratory allergy and sensitization.

Cite this as: M. Pesonen, M. J. T. Kallio, M. A. Siimes, E. Savilahti and A. Ranki, Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 2011 (41) 688–696.