Background: The hygiene hypothesis suggests that exposure to micro-organisms influences development of the immune system in children.
Methods: In this study, we examined nasal immune responses in the first 2 years of life in relation to age of children and the number of viral infections they have experienced. Nasal brushes were taken during rhinovirus- (n = 20) or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)-induced (n = 7) upper respiratory tract infections (URTI), and of controls (n = 40).
Results: The number of macrophages were higher during URTI and increased with age. The number of T lymphocytes increased with age in controls and were higher during URTI at all ages. We found an age-related decrease in the number of interleukin (IL)-4- and IL-10-positive cells in controls, while the number of IL-12-positive cells remained unchanged. Changes in T lymphocyte and IL-4 cell number were stronger related to the age of the child than to the number of respiratory infections, while the opposite was true for macrophages.
Conclusions: In infants, we found an infection- and age-related increase respectively for nasal macrophages and T lymphocytes during URTI. Furthermore, the number of IL-4- and IL-10-positive cells decreased with age. Whether this maturation reflects a natural age-related maturation, the degree of exposure to respiratory infections, or possibly both, could not be resolved and needs further study.