These are the results from a long-term study correlating life-style, immune system development and allergies, led by the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research in Leipzig (UFZ), the Helmholtz Zentrum München and the “Institut für Umweltmedizinische Forschung” (IUF) in Duesseldorf.
The researchers had examined blood samples taken from 234 six-year old children and discovered increased blood concentrations of the stress-related peptide VIP (vasoactive intestinal polypeptide) in connection with moving house or the separation of parents.
The neuropeptide VIP could take on a mediator role between stress events in life and the regulation of immune responses, researchers write in the scientific journal Pediatric Allergy and Immunology. The fact that stress events can have an influence on the development of allergies has been known for a while. The mechanisms behind this however remained unexplained for a long time. In the study that has now been published, stress events were investigated for the first time during early childhood within a large epidemiological study using immune and stress markers.
Stress events during childhood are increasingly suspected of playing a role in the later development of asthma, allergic skin disorders, or allergic sensitisations.
Dramatic life events like the death of a family member, serious illnesses of a family member or the separation of parents, but also harmless events like for example moving house are suspected of increasing the risk of allergies for the children affected. The immune system obviously plays a mediator role between stress on the one hand and allergies on the other. Since these mechanisms had hardly been understood before, researchers attempted to identify stress-related factors showing an influence on the immune system, in the context of an epidemiological study (LISA).
At the same time as the blood tests, researchers together with colleagues from the Institute for Social Medicine at the University of Lübeck also analysed the most diverse social factors in the children’s environment, in order to find out which factors are causing stress-related regulation deficiencies of the immune system. With children, whose parents had separated over the last year, researchers found increased blood concentrations of the neuropeptide VIP (vasoactive intestinal polypeptide) as well as an increased concentration of immune markers, which are related to the occurrence of allergic reactions, like for example the cytokine IL-4. By comparison, serious diseases or the death of close relatives led to no remarkable changes. Likewise, the unemployment of parents was not associated with increased concentrations of the stress-related peptides in the children's blood.
Pediatric Allergy and Immunology 2008, Feb 25 [Epub ahead of print] doi:10.1111/j.1399-3038.2008.00727.xHerberth G, Weber A, Röder S, Krämer U, Diez U, Borte M, Lehmann I. The stress of relocation and neuropeptides: an epidemiological study in children.
Clinical Experimental Allergy 2006, 36, 1408-1416 doi:10.1111/j.1365-2222.2006.02576.xFurther information from:
The Helmholtz Association helps solve major, pressing challenges facing society, science and the economy with top scientific achievements in six research areas: Energy, Earth and Environment, Health, Key Technologies, Structure of Matter, Transport and Space. With 25,700 employees in 15 research centres and an annual budget of around EUR 2.3 billion, the Helmholtz Association is Germany's largest scientific organisation. Its work follows in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894).
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