Problem: Maternal methylmercury (MeHg) exposure may be associated with immune response during pregnancy.
Method of study: In the high fish-eating Seychelles Child Development Study Nutrition Cohort 2, we examined the association between maternal MeHg, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), and immune markers (Th1:Th2; TNF-α, IL-1β, IFN-γ, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, MCP-1, TARC, sFlt-1, VEGF-D, CRP and IL-6) at 28 weeks’ gestation. Linear regression examined associations between MeHg exposure and immune markers with and without adjustment for PUFA.
Results: In all models, as MeHg concentrations increased, the Th1:Th2 ratio, total Th1 and individual Th1 (IL-1β, IL-2, TNF-α) concentrations decreased. MeHg was not associated with total Th2 cytokines but was associated with a decrease in IL-4 and IL-10. MeHg was positively associated with TARC and VEGF-D and negatively associated with CRP. There was a significant interaction between MeHg and the n-6:n-3 ratio, with MeHg associated with a larger decrease in Th1:Th2 at higher n-6:n-3 PUFA ratios. The n-3 PUFA were associated with lower CRP, IL-4 and higher IFN-γ. The n-6 PUFA were associated with higher IL-1β, IL-2, TNF-α, IL-4, IL-10, CRP and IL-6.
Conclusion: Maternal MeHg was associated with markers of immune function at 28 weeks’ gestation. A significant interaction between MeHg and the n-6:n-3 ratio on the Th1:Th2 ratio suggests that the n-3 PUFA may mitigate any immunosuppressive associations of MeHg. The n-3 and n-6 PUFA were associated with suppressive and stimulatory immune responses, respectively. Overall, the associations were of small magnitude, and further research is required to determine the clinical significance.
- immune function
- n-3 PUFA
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy
- Reproductive Medicine
- Obstetrics and Gynaecology