Background: Children who reside in agricultural settings are potentially exposed to higher levels of organophosphate (OP) pesticides, endotoxin, and allergens than their urban counterparts. Endotoxin and allergens stimulate maturation of the immune response in early childhood, but little is known about the effect of exposures to OPs or to the three combined.
Objectives: In this study, we investigated the relationships between these exposures and T-helper 1 (Th1) and T-helper 2 (Th2) cytokines, biomarkers of allergic asthma, in the subjects of CHAMACOS (Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas), a longitudinal birth cohort in Salinas Valley, California. Exposures were ascertained by interviewer-administered questionnaires and by home visits, and clinical diagnoses were abstracted from medical records. Blood samples were collected at 12 and 24 months of age and analyzed for Th1/Th2 status by flow cytometric detection of intracellular interferon-gamma/interleukin-4 cytokine expression.
Findings: Mean Th2 levels were significantly higher in children with doctor-diagnosed asthma and children with wheezing at 2 years of age. In a multiple linear regression model, exclusive breast-feeding at 1 month and pet ownership were associated with 35.3% (p < 0.01) and 34.5% (p = 0.01) increases in Th1, respectively. Maternal agricultural work and presence of gas stove in the home were associated with a 25.9% increase (p = 0.04) and 46.5% increase (p < 0.01) in Th2, respectively.
Conclusions: Asthma and wheeze outcomes in children at 24 months of age are associated with elevated Th2 status in children at an early age. Our data further suggest that early exposures to an agricultural environment, breast-feeding, pets, and gas stoves affect the development of children's Th1/Th2 immune response.