Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) reduce T-cell activation and dampen inflammation. They might thereby counteract the neonatal immune activation and hamper normal tolerance development to harmless environmental antigens. We investigated whether fatty acid composition of cord serum phospholipids affects allergy development up to age 13 years.

From a population-based birth-cohort born in 1996/7 and followed until 13 years of age (n = 794), we selected cases with atopic eczema (n = 37) or respiratory allergy (n = 44), as well as non-allergic non-sensitized controls (n = 48) based on diagnosis at 13 years of age. Cord and maternal sera obtained at delivery from cases and controls were analysed for proportions of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids among serum phospholipids.

The cord serum phospholipids from subject who later developed either respiratory allergy or atopic eczema had significantly higher proportions of 5/8 LCPUFA species, as well as total n-3 LCPUFA, total n-6 LCPUFA and total LCPUFA compared to cord serum phospholipids from controls who did not develop allergy (P<0.001 for all comparisons). Conversely, individuals later developing allergy had lower proportion of the monounsaturated fatty acid 18∶1n-9 as well as total MUFA (p<0.001) among cord serum phospholipids. The risk of respiratory allergy at age 13 increased linearly with the proportion of n-3 LCPUFA (Ptrend<0.001), n-6 LCPUFA (Ptrend = 0.001), and total LCPUFA (Ptrend<0.001) and decreased linearly with the proportions of total MUFA (Ptrend = 0.025) in cord serum phospholipids. Furthermore, Kaplan-Meier estimates of allergy development demonstrated that total LCPUFA proportion in cord serum phospholipids was significantly associated with respiratory allergy (P = 0.008) and sensitization (P = 0.002), after control for sex and parental allergy.

A high proportion of long-chain PUFAs among cord serum phospholipids may predispose to allergy development. The mechanism is unknown, but may involve dampening of the physiologic immune activation in infancy needed for proper maturation of the infant's immune system.

PMID: 23874467

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