The inverse relationship between gestational age at birth and postviral respiratory morbidity suggests that infants born preterm (PT) may miss a critical developmental window of T cell maturation. Despite a continued increase in younger PT survivors with respiratory complications, we have limited understanding of normal human fetal T cell maturation, how ex utero development in premature infants may interrupt normal T cell development, and whether T cell development has an effect on infant outcomes. In our longitudinal cohort of 157 infants born between 23 and 42 weeks of gestation, we identified differences in T cells present at birth that were dependent on gestational age and differences in postnatal T cell development that predicted respiratory outcome at 1 year of age. We show that naive CD4+ T cells shift from a CD31–TNF-α+ bias in mid gestation to a CD31+IL-8+ predominance by term gestation. Former PT infants discharged with CD31+IL8+CD4+ T cells below a range similar to that of full-term born infants were at an over 3.5-fold higher risk for respiratory complications after NICU discharge. This study is the first to our knowledge to identify a pattern of normal functional T cell development in later gestation and to associate abnormal T cell development with health outcomes in infants.
Kristin M. Scheible, Jason Emo, Nathan Laniewski, Andrea M. Baran, Derick R. Peterson, Jeanne Holden-Wiltse, Sanjukta Bandyopadhyay, Andrew G. Straw, Heidie Huyck, John M. Ashton, Kelly Schooping Tripi, Karan Arul, Elizabeth Werner, Tanya Scalise, Deanna Maffett, Mary Caserta, Rita M. Ryan, Anne Marie Reynolds, Clement L. Ren, David J. Topham, Thomas J. Mariani, Gloria S. Pryhuber