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Nat Med. 1999 Apr;5(4):427-30.

Fetal immunization of baboons induces a fetal-specific antibody response.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City 73104, USA.


Neonates face a high risk of infection because of the immaturity of their immune systems. Although the transplacental transfer of maternal antibodies to the fetus may convey improved postnatal immunity, this transfer occurs late in gestation and may fail to prevent in utero infection. Both fetal immunization and in utero exposure to antigen can result in a state of immunologic tolerance in the neonate. Tolerance induction of fetal and premature infant lymphocytes has become a paradigm for neonatal responsiveness. However, fetal IgM responses have been demonstrated to maternal immunization with tetanus toxoid and to congenital infections such as rubella, toxoplasma, cytomegalovirus and human immunodeficiency virus. Moreover, 1-week-old infants can respond to standard pediatric vaccination, and neonates immunized with polysaccharide antigens do not develop immunologic tolerance. Here, direct immunization of the baboon fetus with recombinant hepatitis B surface antigen produced a specific fetal IgG antibody response. No specific maternal antibody response was detected, eliminating the possibility of vertical antibody transmission to the fetus. Some infants also responded to later vaccinations with hepatitis B surface antigen, indicating that no immunological tolerance was induced by prior fetal immunization. These results characterize the ability of the fetal immune system to respond to in utero vaccination. We demonstrate that active fetal immunization can serve as a safe and efficient vaccination strategy for the fetus and neonate.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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