Background: Presymptomatic immaturity in neonatal T-cell function is a consistent antecedent of allergic disease, including reduced responsiveness to polyclonal activation.
Methods: To elucidate the underlying mechanisms, we examined for differences in T-cell gene expression in longitudinal samples collected at birth and at 1 year of age in children with (n = 30) and without IgE-mediated food allergy (n = 30). We employed a low-level soluble anti-CD3 stimulus to activate the T-cell receptor (TCR) and surveyed gene expression by DNA microarray in purified CD4(+) T-cells. Allergen-specific responses were assessed in parallel functional studies.
Results: At birth, the allergic group showed a reduced number of genes up regulated in response to anti-CD3 treatment on the microarray and a reduced lympho proliferative capacity, suggesting clear differences in T-cell signalling pathways. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) validation of candidate genes confirmed significantly lower expression of a number of genes in the allergic group including RELB, NFKB2, LIF and FAS. By 12 months of age, there were marked changes in the anti-CD3 response in all infants, culminating in upregulation of cytokine genes (IL-5, IL-13, IL-17 and IL-22). Neonatal differences were no longer apparent. Instead, the allergic group, all symptomatic by this age, showed differential expression of T-cell lineage pathways including GATA-3, MAL and FcER1 in unstimulated T-cells. Allergen stimulation induced significantly higher cytokines production (IL-5, IL-13 and IFNγ) in the allergic group.
Conclusion: Although transient, suboptimal neonatal T-cell activation pathways that signal through the NF-κB complex may affect the developmental transition of T-cell phenotypes in the periphery shortly after birth and may increase the risk of food allergy.
© 2011 John Wiley & Sons A/S.