Journal article

Neonatal Group B Streptococcal Disease in Otherwise Healthy Infants: Failure of Specific Neonatal Immune Responses

Only a small proportion of newborn infants exposed to a pathogenic microorganism develop overt infection. Susceptibility to infection in preterm infants and infants with known comorbidities has a likely multifactorial origin and can be often attributed to the concurrence of iatrogenic factors, environmental determinants, underlying pathogenic processes, and probably genetic predisposition. Conversely, infection occurring in otherwise healthy full-term newborn infants is unexplained in most cases. Microbial virulence factors and the unique characteristics of the neonatal immune system only partially account for the interindividual variability in the neonatal immune responses to pathogens. We here suggest that neonatal infection occurring in otherwise healthy infants is caused by a failure of the specific protective immunity to the microorganism. To explain infection in term and preterm infants, we propose an extension of the previously proposed model of the genetic architecture of infectious diseases in humans. We then focus on group B streptococcus (GBS) disease, the best characterized neonatal infection, and outline the potential molecular mechanisms underlying the selective failure of the immune responses against GBS. In light of the recent discoveries of pathogen-specific primary immunodeficiencies and of the role of anticytokine autoantibodies in increasing susceptibility to specific infections, we hypothesize that GBS disease occurring in otherwise healthy infants could reflect an immunodeficiency caused either by rare genetic defects in the infant or by transmitted maternal neutralizing antibodies. These hypotheses are consistent with available epidemiological data, with clinical and epidemiological observations, and with the state of the art of neonatal physiology and disease. Studies should now be designed to comprehensively search for genetic or immunological factors involved in susceptibility to severe neonatal infections.


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