Early genetic and environmental factors have been discussed as potential causes for the high prevalence of asthma and allergic disease in the western world, and knowledge on fetal growth and its consequence on future health and disease development is emerging.
This review article is an attempt to summarize research on fetal growth and risk of asthma and allergic disease. Current knowledge and novel findings will be reviewed and open research questions identified, to give basic scientists, immunologists and clinicians an overview of an emerging research field.
PubMed-search on pre-defined terms and cross-references.
Several studies have shown a correlation between low birth weight and/or gestational age and asthma and high birth weight and/or gestational age and atopy. The exact mechanism is not yet clear but both environmental and genetic factors seem to contribute to fetal growth. Some of these factors are confounders that can be adjusted for, and twin studies have been very helpful in this context. Suggested mechanisms behind fetal growth are often linked to the feto-maternal circulation, including the development of placenta and umbilical cord. However, the causal link between fetal growth restriction and subsequent asthma and allergic disease remains unexplained. New research regarding the catch-up growth following growth restriction has posited an alternative theory that diseases later on in life result from rapid catch-up growth rather than intrauterine growth restriction per se. Several studies have found a correlation between a rapid weight gain after birth and development of asthma or wheezing in childhood.
Conclusion and clinical relevance
Asthma and allergic disease are multifactorial. Several mechanisms seem to influence their development. Additional studies are needed before we fully understand the causal links between fetal growth and development of asthma and allergic diseases.