Study shows amount of vitamin A during pregnancy affects offspring immunity

March 20, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
Retinol or Vitamin A 3D space model (balls model). Credit: YassineMrabet, Wikipedia.

(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers working in the Netherlands has found that the amount of vitamin A a woman consumes during pregnancy has a lifelong impact on the immune system of her offspring. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the team describes experiments they conducted with pregnant mice on vitamin A restricted diets and the impact it had on the development of offspring immunity. In a companion News & Views article Gérard Eberl, of the Pasteur Institute provides a history of vitamin A research and the various findings of several research efforts.

Medical scientists have known for some time that vitamin A is important both for a developing fetus and for people of all ages, a lack of it has been linked to blindness, reproduction problems, bone metabolism and skin homeostasis. In this new effort the research team has found that it also plays a crucial role in the development of the immune system—specifically, in the development of and Peyer's patches.

Lymph nodes are organs situated throughout the human body, most notably in the armpits. They are a garrison of several types of immunity cells—they serve as a form of net or trap for foreign elements that could potentially cause harm. Peyer's patches are structures similar to lymph nodes that exist in the intestine and serve much the same role in immunity.

To find out whether a lack of vitamin A during might have an impact on immunity in offspring later in life, the researchers fed a diet with little to no vitamin A and then tracked the development of the offspring as compared to the offspring of mice fed normal amounts of vitamin A. The researchers report that the vitamin A deprived offspring developed smaller lymph nodes and Peyer's patches than the control group, and as a result were more susceptible later in life to a virus that causes lung infections—it was introduced intentionally to demonstrate immune response.

The researchers also noted that giving the newly born vitamin A deprived mice the vitamin didn't reverse the impact of the in vitro deficiency, nor did giving them a bone marrow transplant. The smaller lymph nodes and Peyer's patches remained smaller than normal throughout the entire life of the mice contributing to a weaker than normal immune system.

Explore further: Study shows vitamin A deficiency promotes type 2 barrier immunity

More information: Maternal retinoids control type 3 innate lymphoid cells and set the offspring immunity, Nature (2014) DOI: 10.1038/nature13158

The impact of nutritional status during fetal life on the overall health of adults has been recognized; however, dietary effects on the developing immune system are largely unknown. Development of secondary lymphoid organs occurs during embryogenesis and is considered to be developmentally programmed. Secondary lymphoid organ formation depends on a subset of type 3 innate lymphoid cells (ILC3) named lymphoid tissue inducer (LTi) cells. Here we show that mouse fetal ILC3s are controlled by cell-autonomous retinoic acid (RA) signalling in utero, which pre-sets the immune fitness in adulthood. We found that embryonic lymphoid organs contain ILC progenitors that differentiate locally into mature LTi cells. Local LTi cell differentiation was controlled by maternal retinoid intake and fetal RA signalling acting in a haematopoietic cell-autonomous manner. RA controlled LTi cell maturation upstream of the transcription factor RORγt. Accordingly, enforced expression of Rorgt restored maturation of LTi cells with impaired RA signalling, whereas RA receptors directly regulated the Rorgt locus. Finally, we established that maternal levels of dietary retinoids control the size of secondary lymphoid organs and the efficiency of immune responses in the adult offspring. Our results reveal a molecular link between maternal nutrients and the formation of immune structures required for resistance to infection in the offspring.

Related Stories

Study shows vitamin A deficiency promotes type 2 barrier immunity

January 24, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers made up of members from a variety of institutions across the U.S. has found that a lack of vitamin A in the diet may help ward off worm infections. In their paper published in the ...

Vitamin D deficiency may compromise immune function

February 25, 2014
Older individuals who are vitamin D deficient also tend to have compromised immune function, according to new research accepted for publication in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

Type 1 diabetes: Vitamin D deficiency occurs in an early stage

February 27, 2014
Vitamin D is known as a major regulator of calcium levels and bone metabolism. Furthermore, it also influences the immune system. Previous studies have shown that patients with recently diagnosed type 1 diabetes have significantly ...

Lymph nodes with location memory

August 14, 2013
Regulatory T cells (or "Tregs" for short) play a central role in the human immune system: They guide all of the other immune cells and make sure they are tolerant of the body's own cells and harmless foreign substances. How ...

Prenatal vitamin A deficiency tied to postnatal asthma

February 12, 2014
A team of Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) investigators led by Wellington V. Cardoso, MD, PhD, has found the first direct evidence of a link between prenatal vitamin A deficiency and postnatal airway hyperresponsiveness, ...

Synthetic vitamin D receptor ligands reduce murine kidney fibrosis

October 25, 2013
Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with kidney disease including fibrosis. Some studies have even suggested that treatment with vitamin D or vitamin D analogs can reduce renal fibrosis; however, the pathways targeted ...

Recommended for you

Researchers release the brakes on the immune system

October 18, 2017
Many tumors possess mechanisms to avoid destruction by the immune system. For instance, they misuse the natural "brakes" in the immune defense mechanism that normally prevent an excessive immune response. Researchers at the ...

Gene transcription in virus-specific CD8 T cells differentiates chronic from resolving HCV

October 17, 2017
Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators have identified differences in gene transcription within key immune cells that may distinguish those individuals infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) who develop chronic ...

How cytoplasmic DNA triggers inflammation in human cells

October 17, 2017
A team led by LMU's Veit Hornung has elucidated the mechanism by which human cells induce inflammation upon detection of cytoplasmic DNA. Notably, the signal network involved differs from that used in the same context in ...

Early trials show potential for treating hay fever with grass protein fragments

October 13, 2017
Protein fragments taken from grass can help protect hay fever patients from allergic reactions to pollen grains.

Researchers find mechanism for precise targeting of the immune response

October 13, 2017
The immune system checks the health of cells by examining a kind of molecular passport. Sometimes, cells present the wrong passport, which can lead to autoimmune diseases, chronic inflammations or cancer. Scientists of the ...

Enzyme behind immune cell response revealed

October 12, 2017
Monash University researchers have revealed the role played by an enzyme that is pivotal to the process of clearing infection in the body. Moreover, they suggest that the enzyme may be a potential target for drug development ...


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.