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Prenatal Undernutrition and Postnatal Growth Are Associated with Adolescent Thymic Function


McDade, Thomas W.; Beck, Melinda A.; Kuzawa, Christopher W.; & Adair, Linda S. (2001). Prenatal Undernutrition and Postnatal Growth Are Associated with Adolescent Thymic Function. Journal of Nutrition, 131(4), 1225-1231.


The fetal and early infant origins of a number of adult cardiovascular and metabolic diseases have received considerable attention, but the long-term consequences of early environments for human immune function have not been reported. We investigated the effects of pre- and postnatal environments on thymic hormone production in adolescents participating in an ongoing longitudinal study in the Philippines. Prospective data collected at birth, during y 1 of life, in childhood and in adolescence were used to predict plasma thymopoietin concentration in 14- to 15-y-old adolescents (n = 103). Thymopoietin concentration was compared for small-for-gestational-age and appropriate-for-gestational-age individuals while controlling for a range of postnatal exposures. Prenatal undernutrition was significantly associated with reduced thymopoietin production in interaction with the duration of exclusive breast-feeding (P = 0.006). Growth in length during y 1 of life was positively associated with adolescent thymopoietin production (P = 0.002). These associations remained significant after adjusting for a range of potentially confounding variables. These findings provide support for the importance of fetal and early infant programming of thymic function, and suggest that early environments may have long-term implications for immunocompetence and adult disease risk.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Journal of Nutrition


McDade, Thomas W.
Beck, Melinda A.
Kuzawa, Christopher W.
Adair, Linda S.