New research in Australia has uncovered key differences in blood samples taken at birth from babies who subsequently developed food allergies and those who did not develop allergies. These findings suggest allergies may start to develop before babies are born and the process may be influenced by the mother’s environment during pregnancy.
Gene expression can be regulated by epigenetic processes sometimes called a ‘molecular switch’. Epigenetic processes can be altered by environmental and developmental factors and, increasingly, it seems that the resulting changes to gene expression may be inheritable. In the latest study, the researchers found there were apparent molecular differences present in blood samples taken at birth in those who had gone on to develop food allergies, compared to samples taken from babies who did not develop allergies.
For the study, mothers with allergy (as determined by positive skin prick test to a standard panel of allergens) were recruited in the last trimester of pregnancy from community antenatal clinics. Once born, their children were followed-up until the age of 2.5 yrs. IgE-mediated food allergy was determined by a pediatric allergist based on clinical outcomes of a physical assessment conducted when the child was one year old, case history and allergy testing. Most of the children who developed food allergy showed a sensitivity to hen’s egg. The group of allergic children were age-matched to a non-allergic control group.
While this study only looked at 24 children in total, it will now be conducted on a wider scale.
The full paper detailing this study can be accessed via the following link:
Reference: Martino et al. 2014. Epigenetics Vol. 9(7) pp. 998–1006.