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Int J Tissue React. 2004;26(1-2):53-60.

Multiple effects of theobromine on fetus development and postnatal status of the immune system.

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Department of Laboratory Diagnostics and Immunology, National Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases, Warsaw, Poland.


Caffeine and its active derivative, theobromine, are probably the most frequently ingested pharmacologically active substances. Considering their uninhibited transport via the placental barrier as well as immature enzymatic activities and metabolic pathways in embryos and infants resulting in the longer half-life of methyloxanthines and their accumulation, unrestrained uptake of these substances might result in noticeably more pronounced biological effects during pregnancy and the postnatal period. Our previous studies have shown that methyloxanthines are significant inhibitors of angiogenic growth factors production and angiogenesis itself. We have hypothesized that increased uptake of these substances might affect embryonal angiogenesis and, later in the postnatal period, maturation and functional activity of the offspring's immune system. The study was performed on 2-month-old Balb/c mice fed theobromine 2 or 6 mg/day during pregnancy and lactation. On day 18 of pregnancy the number and weight of embryos were assessed as was their tissue angiogenic activity, using the cutaneous angiogenesis assay. In the group of 4-week-old sucklings, body and spleen were weighed together with the trunk, and tail and limb length were measured. Six weeks after birth the splenocytes' mitogen-induced activity and their ability to induce graft-versus-host reaction as well as the humoral response to SRBC antigen were evaluated. Content of theobromine in the embryos' tissue was estimated by high liquid performance chromatography (HPLC). Theobromine feeding resulted in significant inhibition of embryo growth as assessed by their weight and decreased angiogenic activity of their tissue. The theobromine content in embryo tissue from treated groups was higher than in the controls, and the difference was close to significant. In the postnatal period the discrepancies in the treated 4-week-old group's development were also observed in the significantly shorter limbs in comparison to the controls. Moreover in the treated group of 6-week-old sucklings, considerable variations in the immune system's functional activity were registered as far as cellular and immune response were concerned. Respectively, the splenocytes' mitogen-induced proliferative activity was significantly suppressed while the graft-versus-host reaction was up-regulated, and the serum antibodies titer was elevated in correspondence to the observed spleen enlargement. We concluded that a theobromine-enriched diet affects progeny development in both prenatal and postnatal periods. Consequently, particular attention should be paid to the reduction of theobromine consumption, and most probably that of other methyloxanthines, during pregnancy and lactation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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