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J Perinat Med. 2015 Sep;43(5):609-18. doi: 10.1515/jpm-2014-0226.

Diminished HLA-DR expression on monocyte and dendritic cell subsets indicating impairment of cellular immunity in pre-term neonates: a prospective observational analysis.



The risk of neonates for severe infection/sepsis is reciprocally proportional to gestational age and birth weight. As monocytes and dendritic cells (DC) are recognised key antigen-presenting immune cells, we aimed to elucidate whether neonatal age is associated with reduced expression of human-leukocyte antigen-DR (HLA-DR) antigens on subsets of monocytes and DCs.


Forty-three consecutive neonates (20 male, mean gestational age 236.0±26.8 days; mean 1-min Apgar score 7.5±2.0) were included in a monocentric prospective observational analysis. Patients were grouped according to gestational age (n=15 full-term, n=28 pre-term defined as <33 weeks). Ten healthy adult volunteers were assessed also. Flow-cytometric assessment of HLA-DR expression was performed in subsets of peripheral blood myeloid and plasmacytoid DCs (MDC and PDC) and monocytes (CD14brightCD16negative/CD14positiveCD16positive/CD14dimCD16positive). Clinical and routine laboratory data were followed up.


At birth, leukocyte counts were increased in full-term neonates. Monocyte counts were significantly increased in neonates when compared with adults (all P<0.05). A significant numerical increase of CD14brightCD16negative and CD14positiveCD16positive monocytes was noted in pre-term and full-term neonates (all P<0.05), while HLA-DR expression in these subsets was significantly diminished (most pronounced in pre-term infants, P<0.0001). MDC and PDC HLA-DR expression was reduced also (all P<0.05). Clinical indices (e.g., pH, days on antibiotics/mechanical ventilation, fever/sepsis) were not found to correlate with immunological indices.


We observed a markedly diminished HLA-DR expression on monocyte and DC subsets in pre-term and full-term neonates, which may contribute to impaired antimicrobial defence mechanisms in the early days of life.

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