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Integr Comp Biol. 2009 Sep;49(3):237-45. doi: 10.1093/icb/icp025. Epub 2009 Jun 10.

Postnatal programming of the innate immune response.

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  • 1Hotchkiss Brain Institute and Snyder Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Health Sciences Centre, 3330 Hospital Dr. NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 4N1, Canada.


A host's defensive response to a pathogen is a phylogenetically ancient reaction that consists of a CNS-mediated series of autonomic, hormonal and behavioral responses that combine to combat infection. The absence of such defense results in greater morbidity and mortality and thus, these responses are essential for survival. The postnatal period represents a malleable phase in which the long-term behavior and physiology of the developing organism, including its immune responses, can be influenced. Postnatal challenge of the immune system by introduction of live replicating infections, or administration of bacterial and viral mimetics, can result in a multidomain alteration to the defenses of the adult host. Findings from our laboratory and others' indicate that the postnatal administration of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) or polyinosinic:polycytidylic acid (PolyI:C), which mimic bacterial and viral infections respectively, can influence the neuroimmune response (generation of fever and production of cytokines) to a second challenge to the immune system in adulthood. This long-lasting alteration in the innate immune response is associated with myriad other effects on the animal's physiology and appears to be primarily mediated by a sensitized hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. Thus, a transient immunological perturbation to a developing animal may program the organism for subsequent health complications as an adult. In this review we discuss some of the potential mechanisms for these phenomena.

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