1. University of Vermont College of Medicine Department of Medicine/Immunobiology;
2. University of Vermont College of Medicine Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences;
3. The Vermont Center for Immunology and Infectious Diseases, 89 Beaumont Avenue, Burlington, Vermont, USA, 05405.
Environmental factors likely regulate neonatal immunity and self-tolerance. However, evidence that the neonatal immune system is suppressed or deviated is varied depending on the antigen and the timing of antigen exposure relative to birth. These disparate findings may be related to the availability of the appropriate antigen presenting cells but also point to the possibility of homeostatic changes in non-lymphoid cells in the relevant lymphoid tissues. Here we show that, while leukocytes are the most abundant cell population present in spleen during the first 4-5 days after birth, a massive accumulation of nucleated immature erythroid population in the spleen takes places on day 6 after birth. Although the relative frequency of these immature erythorid cells slowly decreases during the development of neonates, they remain one of the most predominant populations up to three weeks of age. Importantly, we show that the immature erythroid cells from neonate spleen have the capacity to modulate the differentiation of CD4 T cells into effector cells and provide a bias towards a Th2 type instead of Th1 type. These nucleated erythroid cells can produce cytokines that participate in the Th2/Th1 balance, an important one being IL-6. Thus, the selective accumulation of immature erythroid cells in the spleen during a specific period of neonatal development may explain the apparent differences observed in the type(s) of immune responses generated in infants and neonates. These findings are potentially relevant to the better management of immune deficiency in and to the design of vaccination strategies for the young.
Keywords: Neonatal immunity, erythrocytes, T lymphocytes.