Boy and Girl Fetuses Elicit Different Immune Response in Mother Interview with:

Amanda Mitchell PhD Postdoctoral researcher Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Dr. Mitchell

Amanda Mitchell PhD
Postdoctoral researcher
Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research
The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Our study followed 80 pregnant women across the course of their pregnancy – throughout 1st, 2nd, and 3rd trimesters. We examined whether women exhibited different levels of immune markers called cytokines based on fetal sex. We looked at this in two ways – levels of cytokines in the blood, and levels produced by a sample of immune cells that were exposed to bacteria in the laboratory. While women did not exhibit differences in blood cytokine levels based on fetal sex, we found that the immune cells of women carrying female fetuses produced more proinflammatory cytokines when exposed to bacteria. This means that women carrying female fetuses exhibited a heightened inflammatory response when their immune system was challenged compared to women carrying male fetuses. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Inflammation is a critical part of the immune response involved in wound healing and responses to viruses, bacteria, and chronic illnesses. However, excessive inflammation is stressful to the body and can contribute to sickness-related symptoms such as achiness and fatigue. While more research is needed, the heightened inflammation observed among women carrying female fetuses could play a role in why women tend to experience exacerbated symptoms of some medical conditions, including asthma, when carrying a female versus a male fetus. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Our study was conducted primarily in healthy women, with the goal of examining effects of fetal sex on immune function in a typical pregnancy. Future studies examining the relationship between fetal sex and maternal inflammation among women with chronic health conditions, including asthma, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, as well as in women with acute illnesses such as the flu, would give us a sense of how fetal sex may affect maternal health in these contexts. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: This study was supported by NICHD (HD067670, LMC) and NINR (R01NR013661, LMC). The project described was supported by Award Number Grant UL1TR001070 from the National Center For Advancing Translational Sciences. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Center For Advancing Translational Sciences or the National Institutes of Health. Funding sources had no involvement in the study design, collection, analysis, or interpretation of data, writing of the manuscript, nor the decision to submit the article for publication. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Brain Behav Immun. 2017 Feb;60:32-37. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2016.06.015. Epub 2016 Jun 29.
Fetal sex is associated with maternal stimulated cytokine production, but not serum cytokine levels, in human pregnancy.
Mitchell AM, Palettas M, Christian LM

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on February 28, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD