Month of birth impacts on immune system development

April 8, 2013
Month of birth impacts on immune system development
Credit: Milan Jurek

Newborn babies' immune system development and levels of vitamin D have been found to vary according to their month of birth, according to new research.

The research, from scientists at Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Oxford, provides a potential as to why an individual's risk of developing the multiple sclerosis (MS) is influenced by their month of birth. It also supports the need for further research into the potential benefits of D supplementation during pregnancy.

Around 100,000 people in the UK have MS, a disabling neurological condition which results from the body's own damaging the . This interferes with the transmission of messages between the brain and other parts of the body and leads to problems with vision, , hearing and memory.

The development of MS is believed to be a result of a complex interaction between genes and the environment.

A number of population studies have suggested that the month you are born in can influence your risk of developing MS. This 'month of birth' effect is particularly evident in England, where the risk of MS peaks in individuals born in May and drops in those delivered in November. As vitamin D is formed by the skin when it is exposed to sunlight, the 'month of birth' effect has been interpreted as evidence of a prenatal role for vitamin D in MS risk.

In this study, samples of cord blood – blood extracted from a 's umbilical cord – were taken from 50 babies born in November and 50 born in May between 2009 and 2010 in London.

The blood was analysed to measure levels of vitamin D and levels of autoreactive T-cells. T-cells are which play a crucial role in the body's immune response by identifying and destroying , such as viruses. However some T-cells are 'autoreactive' and capable of attacking the body's own cells, triggering autoimmune diseases, and should be eliminated by the immune system during its development. This job of processing T-cells is carried out by the thymus , a specialised organ in the immune system located in the upper chest cavity.

The results showed that the May babies had significantly lower levels of vitamin D (around 20 per cent lower than those born in November) and significantly higher levels (approximately double) of these potentially harmful autoreactive T-cells, compared to the sample of November babies.

Co-author Dr Sreeram Ramagopalan, a lecturer in neuroscience at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, part of Queen Mary, said: "By showing that month of birth has a measurable impact on in utero immune system development, this study provides a potential biological explanation for the widely observed "month of birth" effect in MS. Higher levels of autoreactive T-cells, which have the ability to turn on the body, could explain why babies born in May are at a higher risk of developing MS.

"The correlation with vitamin D suggests this could be the driver of this effect. There is a need for long-term studies to assess the effect of vitamin D supplementation in pregnant women and the subsequent impact on immune system development and risk of MS and other ."

The research letter is published today in the journal JAMA Neurology.

Explore further: High Vitamin D levels in pregnancy may protect mother more than baby against MS

Related Stories

High Vitamin D levels in pregnancy may protect mother more than baby against MS

November 19, 2012
Pregnant women who have higher levels of vitamin D in their blood may have a lower risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) than women with lower levels, while their babies may not see the same protective effect, according ...

Give pregnant women vitamin D supplements to ward off multiple sclerosis, research says

November 14, 2012
The risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) is highest in the month of April, and lowest in October, indicates an analysis of the available evidence, published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Obese moms risk having babies with low vitamin D

January 7, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Women who are obese at the start of their pregnancy may be passing on insufficient levels of vitamin D to their babies, according to a new Northwestern Medicine® study.

Sunlight and vitamin D findings may help understanding of autoimmune diseases

July 18, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Aberdeen scientists have demonstrated for the first time a clear link between sunlight, vitamin D and an impact on regulatory cells in the immune system in findings that might provide new insights into ...

High-dose vitamin D may not be better than low-dose vitamin D in treating MS

October 24, 2011
Low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS), but the first randomized, controlled trial using high-dose vitamin D in MS did not find any added benefit over and above ongoing ...

Recommended for you

Faulty support cells disrupt communication in brains of people with schizophrenia

July 20, 2017
New research has identified the culprit behind the wiring problems in the brains of people with schizophrenia. When researchers transplanted human brain cells generated from individuals diagnosed with childhood-onset schizophrenia ...

Scientists reveal how patterns of brain activity direct specific body movements

July 20, 2017
New research by Columbia scientists offers fresh insight into how the brain tells the body to move, from simple behaviors like walking, to trained movements that may take years to master. The discovery in mice advances knowledge ...

Team traces masculinization in mice to estrogen receptor in inhibitory neurons

July 20, 2017
Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have opened a black box in the brain whose contents explain one of the remarkable yet mysterious facts of life.

Scientists discover combined sensory map for heat, humidity in fly brain

July 20, 2017
Northwestern University neuroscientists now can visualize how fruit flies sense and process humidity and temperature together through a "sensory map" within their brains, according to new research.

New study reveals contrasts in how groups of neurons function during decision making

July 19, 2017
By training mice to perform a sound identification task in a virtual reality maze, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) have identified striking contrasts in how groups of neurons ...

Memory takes time, researchers conclude

July 19, 2017
How short-term memories become long-term ones has frequently been explored by researchers. While a definitive answer remains elusive, New York University scientists Thomas Carew and Nikolay Kukushkin conclude that this transformation ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.