Perinatal and Early-Life Nutrition, Epigenetics, and Allergy

Nutrients. 2021 Feb 25;13(3):724. doi: 10.3390/nu13030724.


Epidemiological studies have shown a dramatic increase in the incidence and the prevalence of allergic diseases over the last several decades. Environmental triggers including risk factors (e.g., pollution), the loss of rural living conditions (e.g., farming conditions), and nutritional status (e.g., maternal, breastfeeding) are considered major contributors to this increase. The influences of these environmental factors are thought to be mediated by epigenetic mechanisms which are heritable, reversible, and biologically relevant biochemical modifications of the chromatin carrying the genetic information without changing the nucleotide sequence of the genome. An important feature characterizing epigenetically-mediated processes is the existence of a time frame where the induced effects are the strongest and therefore most crucial. This period between conception, pregnancy, and the first years of life (e.g., first 1000 days) is considered the optimal time for environmental factors, such as nutrition, to exert their beneficial epigenetic effects. In the current review, we discussed the impact of the exposure to bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungal components, microbiome metabolites, and specific nutritional components (e.g., polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), vitamins, plant- and animal-derived microRNAs, breast milk) on the epigenetic patterns related to allergic manifestations. We gave insight into the epigenetic signature of bioactive milk components and the effects of specific nutrition on neonatal T cell development. Several lines of evidence suggest that atypical metabolic reprogramming induced by extrinsic factors such as allergens, viruses, pollutants, diet, or microbiome might drive cellular metabolic dysfunctions and defective immune responses in allergic disease. Therefore, we described the current knowledge on the relationship between immunometabolism and allergy mediated by epigenetic mechanisms. The knowledge as presented will give insight into epigenetic changes and the potential of maternal and post-natal nutrition on the development of allergic disease.

Keywords: DNA methylation; allergic disease; asthma; breastfeeding; environmental factors; epigenetic mechanisms; histone modifications; metabolic programming; microRNA (miRNA); microbiome; milk; neonatal T cells; nutritional interventions; perinatal; polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA); vitamins.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Epigenesis, Genetic / immunology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity*
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Pregnancy