Exposure to environmental toxins during critical periods of prenatal and/or postnatal development may alter the normal course of lung morphogenesis and maturation, potentially resulting in changes that affect both structure and function of the respiratory system. Moreover, these early effects may persist into adult life magnifying the potential public health impact. Aberrant or excessive pro-inflammatory immune responses, occurring both locally and systemically, that result in inflammatory damage to the airway are a central determinant of lung structure-function changes throughout life. Disruption of neuroendocrine function in early development, specifically the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, may alter functional status of the immune system. Autonomic nervous system (ANS) function (sympathovagal imbalance) is another integral component of airway function and immunity in childhood. This overview discusses the evidence linking psychological factors to alterations in these interrelated physiological processes that may, in turn, influence childhood lung function and identifies gaps in our understanding.
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