Early Life Factors Associated with Adult-Onset Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Women

Front Immunol. 2016 Mar 31;7:103. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2016.00103. eCollection 2016.


Background: Exposure early in life can influence adult disease and immunity, but the role of early life exposures in risk of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is not established.

Methods: Women in a national cohort (ages 35-74) provided data on perinatal, maternal, and sociodemographic factors, longest residence to age 14, and residential farm history of at least 12 months to age 18. Cases (N = 124) reported SLE diagnosed age 16 years or older with use of disease modifying antirheumatic drugs. Non-cases (N = 50,465) did not report lupus. Odds ratios (OR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) were estimated by logistic regression adjusting for age and race/ethnicity.

Results: SLE was associated with low birthweight (data on 84 cases and 36,477 non-cases; <2,500 versus 3,000 to <3,500 g OR = 2.2; 95%CI 1.2, 3.9) and preterm birth (57 cases and 22,784 non-cases; ≥1 month early versus full-term OR = 3.4; 95%CI 1.6, 7.4). Considering longest childhood residence to age 14, SLE was associated with more frequent pesticide use (e.g., at least monthly OR = 2.3; 95%CI 1.3, 4.1). SLE was associated with having an early and extended childhood farm residence (i.e., prenatal/maternal farm exposure and longest childhood farm residence OR = 1.8; 95%CI 1.1, 3.0 versus neither). In those with a childhood-only farm residence of 12+ months, agricultural pesticide use was associated with SLE, with the strongest associations for direct personal exposures.

Conclusion: The association of SLE with preterm birth is consistent with studies in other populations and with an observed association with low birthweight. The associations of SLE with childhood exposure to residential and agricultural pesticides warrant further study.

Keywords: autoimmune disease; birthweight; lifecourse epidemiology; pesticide exposure; preterm birth.