Children born to more stressed-out moms-to-be had different immune cell responses when stimulated with various common environmental triggers compared to babies born to mothers reporting less stress, Wright said.
The researchers were particularly interested in the production of cytokines, which are proteins released by immune-system cells that help govern immune responses.
"The cytokine patterns seen in the higher-stress groups, an indicator of how the child's immune system is functioning at birth and responding to the environment, may be a marker of increased risk for developing asthma as they get older," Wright said.
Wright's team plans to follow the children as they grow up to see if they are at increased risk for developing asthma or allergies.
Dr. Steven E. Lipshultz, chairman of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said these findings aren't surprising, but whether they predict a child's risk of asthma or other allergies is unclear.
"This is an intriguing finding," Lipshultz said. "It isn't surprising, preclinical studies have supported this, what's novel here is it's the first human study."
Lipshultz noted that during the first few months of life the infant is protected by the mother's immune system. "Then the baby has to start making their own immune system responses," he explained.
That's why it's tough to take these findings to the next stage, Lipshultz said: "This study can't tell you, based on whether a mom is stressed during pregnancy, that the child will be healthier or sicker from asthma or allergic diseases." He said the only way to tell is to follow these children as they grow up.
Another expert, Dr. Andrew R. Colin, director of the division of pediatric pulmonary and co-director of the Pediatric Cystic Fibrosis Program at the University of Miam
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