Previous research has found that children from economically disadvantaged households are at an increased risk of disease in adulthood. However, how early childhood socioeconomic disadvantages influence health remains unclear.
To test whether socioeconomic disadvantage is associated with gestational immune activity and offspring neurodevelopment, researchers examined the concentrations of five immune markers in largely third-trimester maternal serum in 1,494 women, around 25 years of age, in the New England Family Study. The authors also accounted for the women’s socioeconomic disadvantage and any neurologic abnormalities in offspring.
The most socioeconomically disadvantaged women had lower concentrations of the proinflammatory cytokine IL-8 and lower ratios of IL-8 to IL-10, an antiinflammatory cytokine, compared with less disadvantaged women. The children of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged women were more likely to have neurological abnormalities at the ages of 4 months and at 1 year, compared with the children of less disadvantaged women.
The association was partly explained by fetal exposure to low levels of maternal IL-8, which was associated with increased risk of neurological abnormalities at the ages of 4 months and 1 year. Levels of the cytokines TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-1β were not associated with socioeconomic disadvantages.
According to the authors, gestational maternal immune activity may contribute to the intergenerational transmission of socioeconomic inequalities in health.