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Study uncovers new explanation for infection susceptibility in newborns

Cells that allow helpful bacteria to safely colonize the intestines of newborn infants also suppress their immune systems to make them more vulnerable to infections, according to new research in Nature.

Published online Nov. 6, the study could prompt a major shift in how medicine views the threat of neonatal infections ā€“ and how researchers go about looking for new strategies to stop it, said scientists at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center who conducted the research. Leading up to this study, the prevailing view has been that newborn infants are susceptible to infection because their immune system cells are immature or underdeveloped.

"The first few days after birth represent a critical developmental period when a baby's immune system must adapt to many new stimulants. This includes environmental microbes that are not present in the womb, but immediately colonize tissues such as the intestine and skin," said Sing Sing Way, MD, senior investigator and a physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Cincinnati Children's. "Our findings fundamentally change how we look at neonatal susceptibility to infection by suggesting it is caused by active immune suppression during this developmental period, as opposed to the immaturity of immune cells."

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