Exposure to farm animals at an early age could help kids avoid development of some allergies, according to a study from the University of Eastern Finland.
The study suggests that growing up on a traditional farm has been shown to protect a child from the development of childhood atopic diseases, though the association between pet exposure in early childhood and the risk of atopic diseases is less clear.
Previous studies also have indicated that farm and pet exposures may have effects on kids' immune systems, but the underlying immunological mechanisms are mainly unsolved.
The Finland study, which looks at dendritic cells and cytokine production, finds that the antigen-presenting dendritic cells may play an important role in the whole view of pet exposure and allergies.
Living on a farm boosts children's immunological tolerance
Researcher Heidi Kääriö, MSc, investigated whether farm, cat and dog exposures affect the phenotype and the functional properties of dendritic cells as well as cytokine production in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of children at 4.5 years old.
Half of the studied children were from farming families and half from rural non-farming families. Farm, cat and dog exposures were assessed mainly from questionnaires.
The study found that stimulation with lipopolysaccharide resulted in a lower percentage of dendritic cells in farm children when compared to those of non-farm children.
Exposure to cats and dogs different from exposure to farm animals
Early life and current exposures to cats and dogs have immune system effects, but these are different from the effects seen in farm exposures. The responses are partly different between reported cat exposure and the load of exposure defined on the basis of cat allergen measurements in house dust.
The novel findings provide important insights for future research investigating the underlying immunological mechanisms involved in farm-related asthma and allergy protection.
In particular, the interplay of innate and adaptive immunity needs to be studied in more detail, the University says.
The findings were originally published in Scandinavian Journal of Immunology and Clinical & Experimental Allergy.