Cord blood Tregs with stable FOXP3 expression are influenced by prenatal environment and associated with atopic dermatitis at the age of one year


  • Edited by: Hans-Uwe Simon


Dr. Irina Lehmann, Department of Environmental Immunology, UFZ – Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Permoserstrasse 15, 04318 Leipzig, Germany.

Tel.: ++49 341 235 1216

Fax: ++49 341 235 1787




Regulatory T cells (Tregs) with stable FOXP3 expression are characterized by a specific demethylated region in the FOXP3 gene (Treg-specific demethylated region, TSDR). The aim of this study was to analyse the influence of prenatal factors on cord blood Treg numbers, as detected by changes in the TSDR demethylation, and the subsequent risk for allergic diseases.


Analyses were performed within the LINA study in blood samples from pregnant women (34th gestational week) and in cord blood (n = 346 mother–child pairs). Treg numbers were detected via DNA demethylation in the FOXP3 TSDR. At age 1, total and specific IgE was measured in children's blood. In addition, maternal cytokine production (Th1/Th2/Th17) was analysed. Exposure and disease outcomes were assessed by questionnaires.


Boys had lower Treg numbers compared with girls (< 0.001). Parental atopy history, particularly maternal hay fever and paternal asthma were related to lower Treg numbers in cord blood (adj. MR = 0.81, 95% CI = 0.68–0.97; adj. MR = 0.60, 95% CI = 0.45–0.81). Maternal cytokines (IL-13, IL-17E and IFN-γ) and maternal smoking/exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy were also associated with decreased cord blood Treg numbers (adj. MR = 0.89, 95% CI = 0.97–1.00). Children with lower Treg numbers at birth had a higher risk to develop atopic dermatitis (adj. OR = 1.55, 95% CI = 1.00–2.41) and sensitization to food allergens (adj. OR = 1.55, 95% CI = 1.06–2.25) during the first year of life.


These results indicate that both genetic and environmental factors presumably influence the development of foetal Tregs. Low cord blood Treg numbers may predict early atopic dermatitis.