Raising a child changes immune systems more than gastroenteritis
Raising a child together has a greater effect on your immune system than the seasonal flu vaccine or travellers' gastroenteritis, a study by researchers at VIB (Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie) and KU Leuven in Belgium and the BBSRC strategically-funded Babraham Institute in the UK has found.
The research took a detailed look at the immune systems of 670 people, ranging from two-86 years of age, to understand more about what drives variation in our immune systems. From assessing the effects of a range of factors, including age, gender and obesity, one of the most potent factors that altered an individual's immune system was whether they co-parented a child. Individuals who lived together and shared a child showed a 50% reduction in the variation between their two immune systems, compared with the diversity seen in the wider population.
Dr Adrian Liston, a researcher at VIB and KU Leuven who co-led the research said: "This is the first time anyone has looked at the immune profiles of two unrelated individuals in a close relationship. Since parenting is one of the most severe environmental challenges anyone willingly puts themselves through, it makes sense that it radically rewires the immune system – still, it was a surprise that having kids was a much more potent immune challenge than severe gastroenteritis. That's at least something for prospective parents to consider – the sleep deprivation, stress, chronic infections and all the other challenges of parenting does more to our body than just gives us grey hairs. I think that any parents of a nursery- or school-age child can appreciate the effect a child has on your immune system!"
Participants in the study were assessed over a period of three years. Regularly monitoring their immune systems showed that the individuals maintained a stable immune landscape over time, even after their immune systems were triggered into action by the seasonal flu vaccine or gastroenteritis. The researchers found that following immune challenge, our immune systems tend to bounce back to the original steady state, demonstrating the elastic potential of our immune system.
In assessing the effect of other factors on the immune system, such as age, obesity, gender, anxiety and depression, the study found that age is a crucial factor in shaping the immunological landscape, agreeing with the age-related decline seen in response to vaccination and reduced resistance to infection.
Dr Michelle Linterman, a researcher at the Babraham Institute who co-led the research said: “Our research shows that we all have a stable immune landscape which is robustly maintained. What is different between individuals is what our individual immune systems look like. We know that only a small part of this is due to genetics. Our study has shown that age is a major influence on what our immune landscapes look like, which is probably one of the reasons why there is a declining response to vaccination and reduced resistance to infection in older persons.”
The research is published by the leading international journal Nature Immunology and was funded by two European Research Council grants. Dr Michelle Linterman and her group at the Babraham Institute are supported by BBSRC. Dr Adrian Liston and his group are members of VIB and KU Leuven in Belgium.
About the study participants
- 638 healthy Belgian individuals were recruited to take part in the study, ranging from 2 to 68 years old
- Of these 638 people, 140 (70 pairs) were co-parents of children
- In total, 921 samples were assessed from 638 people over a period of three years
32 healthy English volunteers aged between 53 and 64 years of age were involved in the research project to study the effect of the winter 2014/2015 influenza vaccination.
About the Babraham Institute
The Babraham Institute, which receives strategic funding (a total of £27.3M in 2014-15) from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), undertakes international quality life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. The Institute’s research provides greater understanding of the biological events that underlie the normal functions of cells and the implication of failure or abnormalities in these processes. Research focuses on signalling and genome regulation, particularly the interplay between the two and how epigenetic signals can influence important physiological adaptations during the lifespan of an organism. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and healthier ageing. www.babraham.ac.uk
VIB (Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie) is a non-profit research institute in life sciences. About 1,400 scientists conduct strategic basic research on the molecular mechanisms that are responsible for the functioning of the human body, plants, and microorganisms. Through a close partnership with five Flemish universities – UGent, KU Leuven, University of Antwerp, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Hasselt University – and a solid funding program, VIB unites the forces of 74 research groups in a single institute. The goal of the research is to extend the boundaries of our knowledge of life. Through its technology transfer activities, VIB translates research results into products for the benefit of consumers and patients and contributes to new economic activity. VIB develops and disseminates a wide range of scientifically substantiated information about all aspects of biotechnology. www.vib.be/en.
About KU Leuven
KU Leuven (University of Leuven) is a leading European research university dedicated to excellent research, education and service to society. It is a founding member of the League of European Research Universities and has a strong European and international orientation. Its sizeable academic staff conducts basic and applied research in a comprehensive range of disciplines. University Hospitals Leuven, its network of research hospitals, provides high-quality healthcare and develops new therapeutic and diagnostic insights with an emphasis on translational research. The university welcomes more than 40,000 students, of which 15.5% are international from more than 140 countries. Its doctoral schools organise internationally oriented PhD programmes for over 4,000 doctoral students.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £509M in world-class bioscience in 2014-15. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
Tags: ageing The Babraham Institute human health systems biology press release obesity immunity