Seminars in Immunopathology

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 137–151 | Cite as

Developmental origin and sex-specific risk for infections and immune diseases later in life

  • Dimitra E. Zazara
  • Petra Clara ArckEmail author


The intrauterine environment is an important determinant of immunity later in life of the offspring. An altered prenatal immune development can result in a high postnatal risk for infections, chronic immune diseases, and autoimmunity. Many of these immune diseases show a strong sex bias, such as a high incidence of autoimmune diseases and allergies in adult females or a high risk for infections in males. Here, we comprehensively review established pathways and propose novel concepts modulating the risk for such poor immunity during childhood and throughout life. Moreover, we highlight how an adverse fetal environment may affect or aggravate the risk for poor immunity in a sex-specific manner. An improved understanding of a sex-specific susceptibility to poor immunity along with insights on how such risk can be modulated before or around birth will allow the development of tailored prevention strategies.


Sex-specificity Children’s health Pregnancy Infections Chronic immune diseases 


Funding information

The writing of this review and reference to the authors’ own work were made possible through funding by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (AR232/25-2, AR232/27-2 within KFO296/2) and by start-up funding (Landerforschungsförderung) for the network “Sex-specific immunity,” provided by the State Ministry for Science, Research and Equality in Hamburg.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Obstetrics and Fetal Medicine, Laboratory for Experimental Feto-Maternal MedicineUniversity Medical Center Hamburg-EppendorfHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of Obstetrics and Fetal MedicineUniversity Medical Center HamburgHamburgGermany

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