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Brain Behav Immun. 2013 Aug;32:21-8. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2013.02.002. Epub 2013 Feb 21.

Prenatal maternal anxiety predicts reduced adaptive immunity in infants.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.


Prenatal anxiety has been linked with altered immune function in offspring in animal studies, but the relevance for human health is unknown. We examined prenatal maternal anxiety as a predictor of adaptive immunity in infants at 2 and 6 months of age as part of a prospective longitudinal study. The humoral immune response to hepatitis B vaccine was assessed at 2 months (n=80) and 6 months (n=76) of age. Prenatal anxiety predicted lower hepatitis B antibody titers at 6 months of age independent of obstetric and socio-demographic covariates; the effects were limited to those infants who had not completed the 3-dose vaccine series (for transformed titer values, r=-.36, p<.05). Cell-mediated immune responses at 2 (n=56) and 6 (n=54) months of age were examined by ELISpot assays for interferon(IFN)-γ, interleukin(IL)-2, and IL-4 responder cell frequencies to three antigens: hepatitis B surface antigen, tetanus toxoid, and phytohaemagglutinin (PHA). Prenatal maternal anxiety was associated with reduced IFN-γ and increased IL-4 responder cell frequencies at 6 months of age, independent of obstetric and socio-demographic covariates. No effect of prenatal anxiety was found on adaptive immunity at 2 months of age. The findings provide the first demonstration in humans that prenatal anxiety alters adaptive immunity in the infant.

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