The increasing prevalence of allergic diseases in affluent societies has been associated with changes in microbial exposure early in life and a less diverse gut flora. The objective of this thesis was to assess the development of allergic sensitisation and symptoms during the first four years of life in a non-selected birth cohort in relation to environmental factors, family history, gut microbiota and salivary IgA antibodies. The cohort comprised all 1,228 infants living in a Swedish county who were born over a one-year period. The parents replied to questionnaires, and 817 children (67 %) were skin prick tested both at 1 and 4 years of age. Saliva (n=279), faecal (n=139) and blood (n=253) samples were collected at 1 year of age from children with a positive skin prick test at 1 year and from a sample of children with a negative skin prick test. Faecal samples were also obtained from 53 children at 4 years of age.
Dog keeping during infancy was associated with a decreased risk of sensitisation to pollen and late-onset wheezing at age 4, and the reduced odds ratios persisted after adjustment for heredity and avoidance measures, OR 0.3, 95% CI 0.1-0.9 and OR 0.5, 95% CI 0.2-1.0, respectively. In contrast, early dog keeping was associated with an increased risk of earlyonset transient wheezing but only in children with parental asthma (OR 2,8, 95% CI 1.3-6.4).
Levels of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) in faeces were assessed both at 1 and 4 years of age and related to the development of sensitisation and symptoms. The levels of acetic (p<.01) and propionic (p<.01) acids decreased from one to four years of age, whereas valeric acid (p<.001) increased which is in line with a more complex gut microbiota with age. Allergic children, compared with non-allergic children, had lower levels of i-butyric, i-valeric and valeric acid in faeces both at 1 and 4 years of age.
Low levels of secretory IgA (SIgA) in saliva were associated with wheezing but only in sensitised children. In children with positive SPT to at least one allergen both at 1 and 4 years of age and in children with circulating IgE antibodies to egg or cat at one year of age, those who developed late-onset wheezing had lower levels of SIgA than those who did not, p=.04 and p=.02 respectively. Of 9 children with levels of SIgA in the upper quartile and persistent sensitisation, none developed wheezing, compared with 10/20 children with lower levels, (p=. 01). Having older siblings, more than three infections during infancy, at least one smoking parent and male gender were all associated with high levels (in the upper quartile) of total IgA and SIgA.
The findings in this thesis indicate that the microbial load early in life could affect the development of allergy. A functional assessment of the gut flora demonstrated differences between allergic and non-allergic children both at 1 and 4 years of age. Salivary IgA was associated with infections during infancy, and high levels of secretory IgA protected from symptoms in sensitised children. Finally, dog keeping in infancy may offer protection from allergy, but the mechanism is uncertain.
2008. , 65 p.
pet keeping, sensitisation, intestinal microflora, short chain fatty acids, allergy, salivary IgA, late-onset wheezing