Objectives: Infancy represents a window of development during which long-term immunological functioning can be influenced. In this study, we evaluate proxies of microbial exposures in infancy as predictors of interleukin-4 (IL-4) in young adulthood. IL-4 is an immunoregulatory cytokine that plays a role in the pathogenesis of atopic and allergic diseases.
Methods: Data were obtained from 1,403 participants in the Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey, an ongoing population-based study in the Philippines. Relationships between microbial and nutritional environments in infancy and plasma IL-4 concentrations in adulthood were evaluated using tobit regression models.
Results: Having older siblings and more episodes of respiratory illness in infancy significantly predicted lower concentrations of plasma IL-4 in adulthood. Unexpectedly, more episodes of diarrheal illness in infancy were associated with higher IL-4 in adulthood. Interactions between a composite household pathogen exposure score and the duration of exclusive breastfeeding approached significance. This interaction showed that the negative association between household pathogen exposure in infancy and adult IL-4 was only significant for individuals who had been exclusively breastfed for a short duration of time. Finally, currently living in an urban household was unexpectedly, negatively associated with adult IL-4. Associations were independent of early nutrition, socioeconomic status (SES), and urbanicity, as well as current measures of infection, body fat, SES, and smoking.
Conclusions: This study builds on a growing body of literature demonstrating that early ecological conditions have long-term effects on human biology by providing evidence that multiple proxies of microbial exposures in infancy are associated with adult IL-4.
Copyright © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.