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Stress in Pregnancy May Hike Baby's Asthma Risk

Study of stressed women and their infants finds biomarkers of heightened immune response

TUESDAY, March 23 (HealthDay News) -- Stresses on a mother during pregnancy may affect the development of her fetus's immune system and increase the risk of the child developing asthma, according to a study published online March 1 in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Rosalind J. Wright, M.D., of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and colleagues recruited pregnant women from 557 mostly minority families (71 percent African-American, 19 percent Latino) living in inner-city areas. The families responded to questionnaires about their financial situation, life circumstances, housing, neighborhood conditions and community violence, with the responses used to produce a composite stress score. Finally, immune cells from the cord blood of the newborns were exposed to bacteria or allergens, such as dust mites, and cytokine production was observed as an indicator of immune response.

The researchers found that higher maternal composite stress scores were associated with a heightened immune response in the infants, including increased interleukin (IL)-8 production and increased tumor necrosis factor-α in response to microbial stimuli and increased IL-13 in response to dust mites.

"In conclusion, prenatal stress appears to affect immune responses to both innate and adaptive stimuli at the time of birth, effects that may result in enhanced susceptibility to asthma or other atopic disorders. Continued follow-up of this prospective birth cohort will allow us to examine whether the stress-related disruptions in these early innate and adaptive immunophenotypes influence the expression of subsequent allergic sensitization and asthma expression in these children," the authors write.

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