Response of cord blood cells to environmental, hereditary and perinatal factors: A prospective birth cohort study

PLoS One. 2018 Jul 6;13(7):e0200236. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200236. eCollection 2018.


Background: Many studies investigating the impact of individual risk factors on cord blood immune cell counts may be biased given that cord blood composition is influenced by a multitude of factors. The aim of this study was to comprehensively investigate the relative impact of environmental, hereditary and perinatal factors on cord blood cells.

Methods: In 295 neonates from the prospective Basel-Bern Infant Lung Development Cohort, we performed complete blood counts and fluorescence-activated cell sorting scans of umbilical cord blood. The associations between risk factors and cord blood cells were assessed using multivariable linear regressions.

Results: The multivariable regression analysis showed that an increase per 10μg/m3 of the average nitrogen dioxide 14 days before birth was associated with a decrease in leukocyte (6.7%, 95% CI:-12.1,-1.0) and monocyte counts (11.6%, 95% CI:-19.6,-2.8). Maternal smoking during pregnancy was associated with significantly lower cord blood cell counts in multiple cell populations. Moreover, we observed sex differences regarding eosinophilic granulocytes and plasmacytoid dendritic cells. Finally, significantly increased numbers of cord blood cells were observed in infants exposed to perinatal stress. Cesarean section seems to play a significant role in Th1/Th2 balance.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that all three: environmental, hereditary and perinatal factors play a significant role in the composition of cord blood cells at birth, and it is important to adjust for all of these factors in cord blood studies. In particular, perinatal circumstances seem to influence immune balance, which could have far reaching consequences in the development of immune mediated diseases.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / cytology*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Leukocytes
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Smoking*

Grants and funding

Funding was provided by Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung (324730_144280 and 320030_163311) to Dr. Urs Frey. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.