Skip to main content
  • Meeting abstract
  • Open access
  • Published:

Immune development in late preterm neonates

Several recent studies have underlined that late preterm infants have a significantly increased risk of infection and sepsis, [13] mainly related to problems of adaptation from intra- to extra-uterine life of the immune defense mechanisms. Indeed, both the innate (natural, non specific) and the adaptive (acquired, specific) immune systems are incompletely developed at birth, the more preterm the neonate, the more severe and prolonged the immunodeficiency.[4, 5]

T lymphocytes response to mitogens is poor, and T and B lymphocytes are immature: higher percentage of CD4+ T lymphocytes and lower of CD8+ cells, with a gradual decline with age of the CD4+/CD8+ ratio, and predominant naïve phenotype with elevated percentages of CD4+/CD45RA+ T cells; in addition, cytokine production is reduced and Th1-like response inadequate. The immaturity of lymphocytes and of antigen presenting cells are responsible for the marked deficiency of antibody production; also, levels of IgG are low in late preterm infants because transplacental passage from the mother mostly occurs during the last trimester of gestation; therefore, these neonates may lack the protection ensured by maternal derived pathogen-specific IgG. The inability to produce adequate amounts of hematopoietic growth factors, particularly G- and GM-CSF, and the reduced neutrophil, complement and natural killer cell activity, may further amplify the neonatal impairment of immune defenses.

The combined neonatal deficiency of immunoglobulin, complement and neutrophil activity results in increased susceptibility to systemic infections from encapsulated pathogens, such as Group B Streptococcus, Staphylococci and Klebsiella, that require opsonization for efficient phagocytosis and killing. The immaturity of pattern recognition receptors (PRR) response to pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMP), in particular the impaired TLR4 (Toll Like Receptor) signaling, [1] may contribute to the late preterm vulnerability to Gram-negative bacteria.[6]

It should be noted, however, that neonatal T cells are capable to raise type 1 and 2 immune responses upon appropriate stimulus. Neonatal immunization does not generally lead to rapid antibody responses, however, it may result in an efficient immunologic priming which can act as a basis for future responses. It is therefore possible to induce early protection by immunization at birth.[7]

Finally, to mitigate detrimental consequences of immunodeficiency in late preterm infants, it is of paramount importance to maintain the mother-newborn protective immunological link by ensuring the host of protective components provided by human milk.[8]


  1. Picone S, Aufieri R, Paolillo P: Infection in late preterm infants. Early Hum Dev. 2014, 90 (Suppl 1): S71-4.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Chirico G, Cortinovis S, Fonte C, Giudici G: Bacterial sepsis. J Chemother. 2007, 19 (Suppl 2): 28-30.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Machado Júnior LC, Passini Júnior R, Rodrigues Machado Rosa I: Late prematurity: a systematic review. J Pediatr (Rio J). 2014, 90: 221-31. 10.1016/j.jped.2013.08.012.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Chirico G: Development of the Immune System in Neonates. J. Arab Neonatal Forum. 2005, 2: 5-11.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Sharma AA, Jen R, Butler A, Lavoie PM: The developing human preterm neonatal immune system: a case for more research in this area. Clin Immunol. 2012, 145: 61-8. 10.1016/j.clim.2012.08.006.

    Article  PubMed Central  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Quinello C, Silveira-Lessa AL, Ceccon ME, Cianciarullo MA, Carneiro-Sampaio M, Palmeira P: Phenotypic Differences in Leucocyte Populations among Healthy Preterm and Full-Term Newborns. Scand J Immunol. 2014, 80: 57-70. 10.1111/sji.12183.

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Sahni R, Polin RA: Physiologic underpinnings for clinical problems in moderately preterm and late preterm infants. Clin Perinatol. 2013, 40: 645-63. 10.1016/j.clp.2013.07.012.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Belloni C, De Silvestri A, Tinelli C, Avanzini MA, Marconi M, Strano F, Rondini G, Chirico G: Immunogenicity of a three-component acellular pertussis vaccine administered at birth. Pediatrics. 2003, 111: 1042-5. 10.1542/peds.111.5.1042.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Chirico G, Marzollo R, Cortinovis S, Fonte C, Gasparoni A: Antiinfective properties of human milk. J Nutr. 2008, 138: 1801S-1806S.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gaetano Chirico.

Rights and permissions

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Chirico, G. Immune development in late preterm neonates. Ital J Pediatr 40 (Suppl 2), A40 (2014).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI: