Prenatal exposure to both stress and aeroallergens (dust mite) may modulate the fetal immune system. These exposures may interact to affect the newborn immune response. We examined associations between prenatal maternal stress and cord blood total IgE in 403 predominately low-income minority infants enrolled in the Asthma Coalition on Community, Environment, and Social Stress (ACCESS) project. We also examined potential modifying effects of maternal atopy and maternal dust mite exposure.
The Crisis in Family Systems survey was administered to mothers prenatally, and a negative life event domain score was derived to characterize stress. Dust mite allergen was quantified in dust from pregnant mothers' bedrooms. Cord blood was analyzed for total IgE. Using linear regression, we modeled the relationship of stress with cord blood IgE and interactions of stress with dust mite and/or maternal atopy, adjusting for potential confounders.
Higher prenatal maternal stress (β = 0.09; P = 0.01) was associated with increased cord blood IgE. The interactive effects between stress and dust mite groups (high vs low) were significantly different for children of atopic vs nonatopic mothers (P for three-way interaction = 0.005). Among children of atopic mothers, the positive association between stress and IgE was stronger in the high dust mite group. In children of mothers without a history of atopy, the positive association between stress and IgE was most evident in the low allergen group.
Prenatal stress was independently associated with elevated cord blood IgE. Mechanisms underlying stress effects on fetal immunomodulation may differ based on maternal atopic status.