A recent study has reported that long labor and a high number of inflammatory immune cells found in the cord blood could increase the risk of developing food allergy in infants.
The development of food allergy is due to a hyperactive response of the body’s immune system and high levels of antibodies against antigens in certain foods. According to a new study published in Science Translational Medicine, susceptibility to food allergy in infants could be due to a high number of specific white blood cells found in the cord blood that promote allergic response. White blood cells, such as monocytes and lymphocytes, help the body fight infections and eliminate antigens.
The researchers studied a cohort of 1074 mother-infant pairs in Southeast Australia. The duration of labor was recorded and cord blood was collected after birth. The infants underwent allergy testing at one year of age. Infants who eventually developed food allergy had cord blood containing a high ratio of monocytes to lymphocytes. These monocytes produced high concentrations of proteins or cytokines that promote inflammation and allergy-related immune response. The cytokines produced by the monocytes also decreased the abundance of specific lymphocytes that help prevent excessive reaction to antigens and autoimmune diseases.
Although the labor process does not cause food allergy, the study found a relationship between long duration of labor and hyper-responsive cord blood immunity. Prolonged labor could imply that the infant has increased inflammatory immune response. The study provided an explanation on how food allergy develops at birth and the authors suggested that early interventions are needed to prevent food allergy in children.
Zhang Y, Collier F, Naselli G, Saffery R, Tang MLK, Allen KJ, Ponsonby AL, Harrison LC, Vuillermin P. Cord blood monocyte-derived inflammatory cytokines suppress IL-2 and induce nonclassic “TH2-type” immunity associated with development of food allergy. Sci Transl Med. Published on 13 January 2016.
Written by Ana Victoria Pilar, PhD