Chemical exposures during pregnancy and early-life exposures changes our immune system function for later in life. Do these early chemical exposures cause disease later in life?
I certainly believe that to be true. Most of the mechanisms were unknown until now.
Researchers took adult mice exposed in pregnancy to a form of dioxin and then exposed the mice to a flu strain to find an interesting immune response. We do know that the developing immune system is sensitive to chemicals.
Chemical exposures do correspond to decreased immune responses to routine vaccinations and increased respiratory infections in children. Aside from vaccine safety and efficacy issues, immune system derailments might be stemming from earlier environmental exposures.
What is happening? They found that CD4+T helper cells that are needed for effective responses to both vaccinations and to fight infections are functionally altered in the a baby's developing immune system after mom and baby are exposed to chemicals.
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Which chemicals are doing this? TCDD is a by-product of industrial processes such as waste incineration and pesticide production that bioaccumulate in our tissues. TCDD has been proven to alter gene transcription in humans and animals.
Researchers used exposed pregnant female mice to TCDD and then during week 6-8 in pregnancy exposed the adult mice to influenza A virus. Normally, CD4+ T cells can form subgroups of immune cells that respond to infection. In the exposed mice to TCDD they had less subgroups that could recognize and fight viruses and they had reduced numbers of regulatory T cells which literally put the brakes on the immune system. In autoimmune diseases, these T cells are not regulated and the gas pedal is constantly on.
Exposure to TCDD reduced the number of T helper cells that could respond to the flu virus and the mice had two to three times less the number of B cells which allows an antibody response. When you produce antibodies then your body makes memory cells to recognize the virus or pathogen again. Scientists wonder if these immune system alterations are then transferred to future generations of offspring. This will mean profound consequences of our ability to fight disease in future generations.
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