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Keywords:

  • B cells;
  • breastfeeding;
  • food allergy;
  • gut-associated lymphoid tissue;
  • mucosal immunoregulation;
  • oral tolerance;
  • secretory immunity;
  • T cells

Abstract: Tolerance to food antigens induced via the gut (“oral tolerance”) appears to be a rather robust adaptive immune mechanism. However, the neonatal period is particularly critical in terms of mucosal defense, with regard to infections and priming for allergic disease. This is so because the intestinal barrier function provided by secretory antibodies, as well as the immunoregulatory network, is poorly developed for a variable period after birth. Notably, the postnatal development of mucosal immune homeostasis depends on the establishment of a normal commensal microbial flora and also on adequate timing and dose of dietary antigens when first introduced. In this context, breastfeeding apears to exert both shielding and positive regulatory effects. Altogether, the intestinal immune system normally seems rather fit for tolerance induction against innocuous antigens because most children with food allergy “outgrow” their problems, whereas airway allergy tends to persist.