Early origins of inflammation: microbial exposures in infancy predict lower levels of C-reactive protein in adulthood

Thomas W. McDade, Julienne Rutherford, Linda Adair, Christopher W. Kuzawa


Ecological factors are important determinants of the development and function of anti-pathogen defences. Inflammation is a central part of innate immunity, but the developmental factors that shape the regulation of inflammation are not known. We test the hypothesis that microbial exposures in infancy are associated with high sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP) in adulthood using prospective data from a birth cohort in the Philippines (n = 1461). Lower birth weight was associated with increased CRP, consistent with a role for inflammation in the widely documented inverse relationship between birth weight and adult cardiovascular diseases. In addition, higher levels of microbial exposure in infancy were associated with lower CRP. These associations were independent of socioeconomic status, measures of current body fat and other health behaviours. We conclude that measures of microbial exposure and nutrition during the pre-natal and early post-natal periods are important predictors of CRP concentration in young adulthood. We speculate that the development of anti-inflammatory regulatory networks in response to early microbial exposure represents plasticity in the development of anti-pathogen defences, and that this process may help explain the low CRP concentrations in this population.


    • Received October 2, 2009.
    • Accepted November 17, 2009.
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