Pre-birth origins of allergy and asthma

K. L. Gatford, A. L. Wooldridge, K. L. Kind, R. Bischof, V. L. Clifton

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Allergy is a chronic disease that can develop as early as infancy, suggesting that early life factors are important in its aetiology. Variable associations between size at birth, a crude marker of the fetal environment, and allergy have been reported in humans and require comprehensive review. Associations between birth weight and allergy are however confounded in humans, and we and others have therefore begun exploring the effects of early life events on allergy in experimental models. In particular, we are using ovine models to investigate whether and how a restricted environment before birth protects against allergy, whether methyl donor availability contributes to allergic protection in IUGR, and why maternal asthma during pregnancy is associated with increased risks of allergic disease in children. We found that experimental intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) in sheep reduced cutaneous responses to antigens in progeny, despite normal or elevated IgE responses. Furthermore, maternal methyl donor supplementation in late pregnancy partially reversed effects of experimental IUGR, consistent with the proposal that epigenetic pathways underlie some but not all effects of IUGR on allergic susceptibility. Ovine experimental allergic asthma with exacerbations reduces relative fetal size in late gestation, with some changes in immune populations in fetal thymus suggestive of increased activation. Maternal allergic asthma in mice also predisposes progeny to allergy development. In conclusion, these findings in experimental models provide direct evidence that a perturbed environment before birth alters immune system development and postnatal function, and provide opportunities to investigate underlying mechanisms and develop and evaluate interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-93
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Reproductive Immunology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017


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