Household size, T regulatory cell development, and early allergic disease: a birth cohort study

Pediatr Allergy Immunol. 2022 Jun;33(6):e13810. doi: 10.1111/pai.13810.


Background: Children born to larger households have less allergic disease. T regulatory cell (Treg) development may be a relevant mechanism, but this has not been studied longitudinally.

Objective: We aim to (i) describe how prenatal and postnatal environmental factors are associated with Treg development and (ii) investigate whether serial Treg measures predict allergic outcomes at 1 year of age.

Methods: A birth cohort (n = 1074) with information on prenatal and postnatal early life factors. Both naïve Treg (nTreg) and activated Treg (aTreg) cell populations (as a proportion of CD4+ T cells) were available in 463 infants at birth (cord blood), 600 at 6 months, and 675 at 12 months. 191 infants had serial measures. Measures of allergic status at 12 months were polysensitization (sensitization to 2 or more allergens), clinically proven food allergy, atopic eczema, and atopic wheeze.

Results: Infants born to larger households (3 or more residents) had higher longitudinal nTreg proportions over the first postnatal year with a mean difference (MD) of 0.67 (95% CI 0.30-1.04)%. Higher nTreg proportions at birth were associated with a reduced risk of infant allergic outcomes. Childcare attendance and breastfeeding were associated with higher longitudinal nTreg proportions (MD 0.48 (95% CI 0.08-0.80)%.

Conclusion: Multiple prenatal and postnatal microbial factors are associated with nTreg and aTreg development. Larger household size was associated with higher nTreg at birth which in turn was associated with reduced allergic sensitization and disease at 12 months of age.

Keywords: T regulatory cells (Treg); food allergy; household size; hygiene hypothesis; infant atopic sensitization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Birth Cohort
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dermatitis, Atopic*
  • Female
  • Food Hypersensitivity*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory