The capacity of the neonate to respond to nonself antigens was evaluated in infant monkeys born after normal and disturbed pregnancies. Mixed lymphocyte cultures were used to test the infants’ proliferative responses to mitomycin-treated stimulator cells, either from a genetically unrelated animal or from a virally transformed monkey cell line. Periods of daily stress for 6 weeks in mid-late pregnancy (months 3.0–4.5) resulted in a significant decrease in proliferative responses, whereas the same stressor early in pregnancy (months 1.5–3.0) increased responses by the neonate’s cells. Similar to the late stress effect, an inhibition of proliferative responses by neonatal cells was induced by dexamethasone administered for 2 days late in pregnancy at 4.5 months after conception, 1 month before term. These findings demonstrate that certain immune responses at birth are extremely sensitive to prior prenatal events. Further, the bidirectional changes indicate that there may be critical periods in gestation when the same extrinsic events have radically different effects on the fetus.
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