Vaccine-induced antibody responses as parameters of the influence of endogenous and environmental factors

Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Aug;109(8):757-64. doi: 10.1289/ehp.01109757.


In laboratory animals, an adequate way to assess effects of environmental exposures on the immune system is to study effects on antigen-specific immune responses, such as after sensitization to T-cell-dependent antigens. This probably also applies to testing effects in the human population. It has thus been suggested that antibody responses to vaccination might be useful in this context. Vaccination responses may be influenced by a variety of factors other than environmental ones. One factor is the vaccine itself; a second is the vaccination procedure used. In addition, the intrinsic capacity of the recipient to respond to a vaccine, which is determined by sex, genetic factors, and age, is important. Psychological stress, nutrition, and (infectious) diseases are also likely to have an impact. We reviewed the literature on vaccine response. With regard to exogenous factors, there is good evidence that smoking, diet, psychological stress, and certain infectious diseases affect vaccination titers, although it is difficult to determine to what extent. Genetic factors render certain individuals nonresponsive to vaccination. In general, in epidemiologic studies of adverse effects of exposure to agents in the environment in which vaccination titers are used, these additional factors need to be taken into consideration. Provided that these factors are corrected for, a study that shows an association of exposure to a given agent with diminished vaccination responses may indicate suboptimal function of the immune system and clinically relevant diminished immune response. It is quite unlikely that environmental exposures that affect responses to vaccination may in fact abrogate protection to the specific pathogen for which vaccination was performed. Only in those cases where individuals have a poor response to the vaccine may exogenous factors perhaps have a clinically significant influence on resistance to the specific pathogen. An exposure-associated inhibition of a vaccination response may, however, signify a decreased host resistance to pathogens against which no vaccination had been performed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / immunology
  • Animals
  • Antibody Formation / drug effects
  • Antibody Formation / genetics
  • Antibody Formation / immunology*
  • Biomarkers
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communicable Diseases / immunology
  • Complement Hemolytic Activity Assay
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Immunologic
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Hepatitis B Vaccines / genetics
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Immune Tolerance / drug effects
  • Immune Tolerance / immunology
  • Immunity, Innate / drug effects
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Infant
  • Life Style
  • Measles Vaccine / genetics
  • Nutritional Status / immunology
  • Smoking / immunology
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / immunology
  • Toxicology / methods*
  • Vaccination / methods
  • Vaccines / administration & dosage
  • Vaccines / immunology*
  • Vaccines / pharmacology*


  • Biomarkers
  • Hepatitis B Vaccines
  • Measles Vaccine
  • Vaccines