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‘Newborns may be capable of protecting themselves from infections’, UK researchers

Posted:  Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It is generally understood that infant immune system is naïve, underdeveloped and incapable of fighting off infection-causing pathogens. It has also been believed that in infants, the T-cell-mediated immune response is blunted to prevent inflammatory damage. However, a group of UK researchers has found that newborn immune T-cells can set off an inflammatory reaction to fight off bacteria.

Published in Nature Medicine, the researchers found that although the infant immune response is much different from that of adults, it produces a potent antibacterial substance that can fight off bacterial infections. The researchers intended to identify the properties of infant T-cells of the immune system. For this, they examined small blood samples from 28 highly premature babies as they developed over the first few weeks of their life.

According to the researchers, the key differentiating factor between infant and adult immune system is production of IL-8 by infant T-cells. Previously, IL-8 had not been considered as a product of T-cells. In an infant’s immune system, T-cell-mediated IL-8 release activates neutrophils, which in turn attack foreign microbial invaders.

Dr. Deena Gibbons, lead author of the study said, “We found that babies have an in-built antibacterial defence mechanism that works differently to adults, but nevertheless may be effective in protecting them. This may also be a mechanism by which the baby protects itself in the womb from infections of the mother.”

Infants are at a high risk of infection and inflammation. Premature infants are particularly vulnerable to necrotising enterocolitis, an inflammatory condition that leads to gastrointestinal tissue destruction. In light of the present findings, treatment interventions using T-cell to address infections or inflammation can be explored.

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