Allergic disorders, characterized by Th2 immune responses to environmental substances, are increasingly common in children in Western societies. Multiple studies indicate that breastfeeding, early complementary introduction of food allergens, and antibiotic avoidance in the first year of life reduces allergic outcomes in at-risk children. Why the benefit of these practices is restricted to early life is largely unknown. We identified a preweaning interval during which dietary antigens are assimilated by the colonic immune system. This interval is under maternal control via temporal changes in breast milk, coincides with an influx of naive T cells into the colon, and is followed by the development of a long-lived population of colonic peripherally derived Tregs (pTregs) that can be specific for dietary antigens encountered during this interval. Desynchronization of mothers and offspring produced durable deficits in these pTregs, impaired tolerance to dietary antigens introduced during and after this preweaning interval, and resulted in spontaneous Th2 responses. These effects could be rescued by pTregs from the periweaning colon or by Tregs generated in vitro using periweaning colonic antigen-presenting cells. These findings demonstrate that mothers and their offspring are synchronized for the development of a balanced immune system.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere137943
JournalJCI Insight
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 6 2020


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