Mom's distress during pregnancy may impact infant's immune system

Our recent study published in in Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that infants born to mothers with pre- and postnatal depression had reduced levels of an important immune antibody in their feces in the first few months of life. The findings shed new light on the stress-microbiome-immunity pathway in humans and suggest that infants born to mothers experiencing distress may be at a higher risk of developing allergic disease.

“Given the emerging research linking the gut microbiome and allergies, we were interested to\ see if maternal depression, which is not uncommon in our increasingly stressful environment, plays a role in an infant’s early life gut immunity,” says lead researcher Dr. Anita Kozyrskyj, an AllerGen investigator and a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Alberta. “We found that when mothers were depressed during and after pregnancy, their infants were more likely to have reduced concentrations of secretory immunoglobulin A (sIgA), a critical immune antibody, in their gut as compared to infants whose mothers were not depressed.”

The sIgA antibody is thought to play a critical role in reducing the risk of allergic disease by helping an infant’s developing immune system to recognize the difference between harmful and harmless substances in the gut.

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