Background: Changes in immune cell composition during the immunological window within the first years after birth are not fully understood, especially the effect that different lifestyles might have on immune cell functionality.
Methods: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from mothers and their children at birth and at two anvd five years were analyzed by mass cytometry. Immune cell composition and functionality was analyzed according to family lifestyle (anthroposophic and non-anthroposophic).
Results: We found no significant differences in the proportions of major immune lineages between anthroposophic and non-anthroposophic children at each time point, but there were clear changes over time in the proportions of mononuclear leukocytes, especially in B-cells and T lymphocytes. Phenotypic distances between cord blood and maternal blood were high at birth but decreased sharply the first two years, indicating strong phenotypic convergence with maternal cells. We found that children exhibited similar stimulation responses at birth, but subsequently segregated into two discrete functional trajectories. Trajectory 1 was associated with a decrease in tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa) production by CD4+ T- and NK-cells, while Trajectory 2 depicted an increase in the production of IL-2 and interferon gamma (INFg) by T-cells. In both trajectories, there was an increase in IL-17A production by T-cells resulting in prominent differences at five years of age.
Conclusions: This exploratory study suggests that leukocyte frequencies and cell phenotypes change with age in the same way across all children, while functional development follows one of two discrete trajectories that largely segregate by family lifestyle, supporting the hypothesis that early environmental exposures imprint immune cell function which may contribute to IgE sensitization. Our results also support that the first two years are critical for the environmental exposures to imprint the immune cells. Further studies with larger sample sizes are required to validate our findings.
Keywords: IgE sensitization to allergens; anthroposophic lifestyle; cytokine production; mass cytometry; peripheral blood mononuclear cell.
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