Pregnancy is often linked to immune suppression, it remains unknown how every-day infections like mild urinary tract, respiratory or food-borne infections that remain undiagnosed and often self-resolve in the mother can affect the offspring’s immunity.
To know this, Ai Ing Lim and colleagues infected pregnant mice with a specific strain of the common food-borne pathogen Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, which causes a mild and transient infection.
But, while the short-lived infection was restricted to the mother, Lim et al. observed elevated levels of intestinal T helper 17 (Th17) cells in the offspring, which persisted into adulthood.
Enriched levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6) produced by the mother in response to infection resulted in epigenetic changes to the fetal intestinal epithelium stem cells during in utero development.
While these offspring showed enhanced protective immunity to gut infection, they also exhibited higher susceptibility to intestinal inflammatory disease, like colitis.
“The past few decades have seen a marked increase in the incidence of inflammatory disorders in children, including asthma, allergies and behavioral deficits driven in part by neuroinflammation,” write Mohammed Amir and Melody Zeng in a related Perspective.
“Future work should address whether and how immune imprinting in utero may underlie the predisposition to inflammatory disorders.”