The immune system in early life goes through rapid and radical changes. Early life is also the period with the highest risk of infections. The foetal immune system is programmed to coexist with foreign antigenic influences in utero, and postnatally to rapidly develop a functional system capable of distinguishing helpful microbes from harmful pathogens. Both host genetics and environmental influences shape this dramatic transition and direct the trajectory of the developing immune system into early childhood and beyond. Given the malleability of the immune system in early life, interventions aimed at modulating this trajectory thus have the potential to translate into considerable reductions in infectious disease burden with immediate as well as long-lasting benefit. However, an improved understanding of the underlying molecular drivers of early life immunity is prerequisite to optimise such interventions and transform the window of early life vulnerability into one of opportunity.
Keywords: Development; Immunity; Infant; Newborn; Ontogeny.
Copyright © 2015 The British Infection Association. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.