Initial immune responses to allergens may occur before birth, thereby modulating the subsequent development of atopy. This paradigm remains controversial, however, due to the inability to identify antigen-specific T cells in cord blood. The advent of MHC tetramers has revolutionized the detection of antigen-specific T cells. Tetramer staining of cord blood after CMV infection has demonstrated that effective CD8+ antigen-specific immune responses can follow intrauterine viral infections. We hypothesized that sensitization to antigens occurs in utero in humans. We studied cord blood B and T cell immune responses following vaccination against influenza during pregnancy. Anti-Fluzone and anti-matrix protein IgM antibodies were detected in 38.5% (27 of 70) and 40.0% (28 of 70), respectively, of cord blood specimens. Using MHC tetramers, HA-specific CD4+ T cells were detected among 25.0% (3 of 12) and 42.9% (6 of 14) of cord blood specimens possessing DRB1*0101 and DRB1*0401 HLA types, respectively, and were detected even when the DRB1 HLA type was inherited from the father. Matrix protein-specific CD8+ T cells were detected among 10.0% (2 of 20) of HLA-A*0201+ newborns. These results suggest that B and T cell immune responses occur in the fetus following vaccination against influenza and have important implications for determining when immune responses to environmental exposures begin.
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