Women's exposure to industrial pollution may be linked to damage to the immune system of their offspring generation after generation, weakening the body's defenses against infections such as the flu virus, according to new research by the University Medical Center of Rochester (United States)
Most of the scientific studies carried out to date have focused on the damage caused by environmental exposure to pollutants on the function of the reproductive, respiratory and nervous systems through multiple generations, but this new research, published in the journal '”Science” aims to analyze how the immune system is also affected.
Effects of vaccines
According to the researchers, this multigenerational weakening of the immune system could serve to explain the variations seen during episodes of seasonal and pandemic flu. Annual flu shots give some people more protection than others, and during pandemic flu outbreaks some people get very sick, while others can fight the infection without problems.
Although age, virus mutations, and other factors may explain some of this variation, they do not account for the diversity of responses to influenza infection found in the general population.
“When you get infected or get a flu shot, your immune system increases the production of specific types of white blood cells in response. The greater the response, the greater the army of white blood cells, increasing the body's ability to successfully fight an infection. Having a smaller army (which we see in multiple generations of mice in this study) means that you are at risk of not fighting the infection as effectively"Explains the director of the investigation, Paige Lawrence.
The study authors hypothesize that exposure to dioxin, which binds to a protein in cells called AHR, somehow alters the transcription of genetic instructions. Exposure itself does not trigger a genetic mutation, but rather alters the cellular machinery by which genes are expressed and this phenomenon is passed on to subsequent generations.