Maternal and cord blood miR-223 expression associates with prenatal tobacco smoke exposure and low regulatory T-cell numbers

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2014 Feb;133(2):543-50. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2013.06.036. Epub 2013 Aug 24.


Background: There is evidence that microRNAs (miRNAs) are sensitive to environmental stressors, including tobacco smoke. On the other hand, miRNAs are involved in immune regulation, such as regulatory T (Treg) cell differentiation. The aim of the present study was to investigate the association between prenatal tobacco smoke exposure, miRNAs, and Treg cell numbers.

Methods: Within a prospective mother-child study (Lifestyle and Environmental Factors and Their Influence on Newborns Allergy Risk), we analyzed the expression of miR-155 and miR-223 together with Treg cell numbers in maternal blood during pregnancy, as well as in cord blood (n = 441). Tobacco smoke exposure was assessed based on questionnaire answers and maternal urine cotinine levels. Additionally, the concentration of smoking-related volatile organic compounds was measured in dwellings of study participants.

Results: Both maternal and cord blood miR-223 expressions were positively correlated with maternal urine cotinine levels. An association was also found between maternal miR-223 expression and indoor concentrations of benzene and toluene. High miR-223 expression was associated with lower Treg cell numbers in maternal and cord blood. Furthermore, children with lower Treg cell numbers at birth had a higher risk of atopic dermatitis during the first 3 years of life. The concentration of the toluene metabolite S-benzylmercapturic acid in maternal urine was associated with decreased cord blood, but not maternal blood, miR-155 expression. A relationship between miR-155 expression and Treg cell numbers was not found.

Conclusions: For the first time, we show that maternal tobacco smoke exposure during pregnancy correlates with the level of miRNA-223 expression in blood, with an effect on children's cord blood Treg cell numbers and subsequent allergy risk.

Keywords: ETS; Effector T; Environmental tobacco smoke; FOXP3; Forkhead box protein 3; Genomic DNA; LINA; Lifestyle and Environmental Factors and Their Influence on Newborns Allergy Risk; MR; Mean ratio; MicroRNA; RT; Regulatory T; Reverse transcription; S-benzylmercapturic acid; S-phenylmercapturic acid; SBMA; SPMA; TSDR; Teff; Treg; Treg cell–specific demethylated region; VOC; Volatile organic compound; cord blood; gDNA; miR-155; miR-223; miRNA; pregnancy; regulatory T cells; tobacco smoke.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution, Indoor / analysis
  • Benzene Derivatives / analysis
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / diagnosis
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / immunology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange / immunology*
  • MicroRNAs / blood*
  • MicroRNAs / immunology
  • Pregnancy / immunology*
  • Smoking
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution


  • Benzene Derivatives
  • MIRN223 microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution