Early life infection and proinflammatory, atherogenic metabolomic and lipidomic profiles in infancy: a population-based cohort study

Elife. 2022 May 10:11:e75170. doi: 10.7554/eLife.75170.


Background: The risk of adult onset cardiovascular and metabolic (cardiometabolic) disease accrues from early life. Infection is ubiquitous in infancy and induces inflammation, a key cardiometabolic risk factor, but the relationship between infection, inflammation, and metabolic profiles in early childhood remains unexplored. We investigated relationships between infection and plasma metabolomic and lipidomic profiles at age 6 and 12 months, and mediation of these associations by inflammation.

Methods: Matched infection, metabolomics, and lipidomics data were generated from 555 infants in a pre-birth longitudinal cohort. Infection data from birth to 12 months were parent-reported (total infections at age 1, 3, 6, 9, and 12 months), inflammation markers (high-sensitivity C-reactive protein [hsCRP]; glycoprotein acetyls [GlycA]) were quantified at 12 months. Metabolic profiles were 12-month plasma nuclear magnetic resonance metabolomics (228 metabolites) and liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry lipidomics (776 lipids). Associations were evaluated with multivariable linear regression models. In secondary analyses, corresponding inflammation and metabolic data from birth (serum) and 6-month (plasma) time points were used.

Results: At 12 months, more frequent infant infections were associated with adverse metabolomic (elevated inflammation markers, triglycerides and phenylalanine, and lower high-density lipoprotein [HDL] cholesterol and apolipoprotein A1) and lipidomic profiles (elevated phosphatidylethanolamines and lower trihexosylceramides, dehydrocholesteryl esters, and plasmalogens). Similar, more marked, profiles were observed with higher GlycA, but not hsCRP. GlycA mediated a substantial proportion of the relationship between infection and metabolome/lipidome, with hsCRP generally mediating a lower proportion. Analogous relationships were observed between infection and 6-month inflammation, HDL cholesterol, and apolipoprotein A1.

Conclusions: Infants with a greater infection burden in the first year of life had proinflammatory and proatherogenic plasma metabolomic/lipidomic profiles at 12 months of age that in adults are indicative of heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. These findings suggest potentially modifiable pathways linking early life infection and inflammation with subsequent cardiometabolic risk.

Funding: The establishment work and infrastructure for the BIS was provided by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI), Deakin University, and Barwon Health. Subsequent funding was secured from National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC), The Shepherd Foundation, The Jack Brockhoff Foundation, the Scobie & Claire McKinnon Trust, the Shane O'Brien Memorial Asthma Foundation, the Our Women's Our Children's Fund Raising Committee Barwon Health, the Rotary Club of Geelong, the Minderoo Foundation, the Ilhan Food Allergy Foundation, GMHBA, Vanguard Investments Australia Ltd, and the Percy Baxter Charitable Trust, Perpetual Trustees. In-kind support was provided by the Cotton On Foundation and CreativeForce. The study sponsors were not involved in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; writing of the report; or the decision to submit the report for publication. Research at MCRI is supported by the Victorian Government's Operational Infrastructure Support Program. This work was also supported by NHMRC Senior Research Fellowships to ALP (1008396); DB (1064629); and RS (1045161) , NHMRC Investigator Grants to ALP (1110200) and DB (1175744), NHMRC-A*STAR project grant (1149047). TM is supported by an MCRI ECR Fellowship. SB is supported by the Dutch Research Council (452173113).

Keywords: Barwon Infant Study; epidemiology; global health; human; infection; inflammation; lipidomic; metabolomic; paediatric.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Apolipoprotein A-I
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • Cardiometabolic Risk Factors*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / epidemiology
  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Inflammation
  • Lipidomics


  • Apolipoprotein A-I
  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • C-Reactive Protein

Grants and funding

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.