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Immunobiology. 2012 Feb;217(2):176-86. doi: 10.1016/j.imbio.2011.07.027. Epub 2011 Jul 30.

Off to a slow start: under-development of the complement system in term newborns is more substantial following premature birth.

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Cardiff University, School of Medicine, Department of Child Health, University Hospital of Wales, Heath Park, Cardiff, UK.


Complement represents a keystone to the innate immune system, with three activation pathways that utilise foreign microbial pattern recognition as well as activation by the host's specific antibodies. However, innate immunity is not synonymous with neonatal immunity. The complement system in healthy term (38-42 weeks gestation) newborns is under-developed and, with only a few exceptions (e.g. C7 and factor D), the circulating complement component concentrations are between 10 and 80% of adult levels. Complement activation is tightly regulated and the circulating regulator levels are also low relative to adults, sometimes at almost undetectable levels (e.g. C4b-binding protein). For premature newborns, these relative deficiencies are even more marked. Newborns are known to be more susceptible to infection, and the importance of complement, not only through its decreased ability to directly lyse bacteria with the common terminal pathway, but also its reduced ability to recruit (chemotaxis) innate and adaptive leukocytes to sites of microbial invasion and reduced ability to enhance phagocytosis (opsonisation) will be discussed. Complement also holds a key role in enhancing and directing refinement of the specific antibody response to pathogens (as an adjuvant) that likely plays a role in the well-known under-performance of the humoral immune response in newborns.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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