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Publication Date



UM campus only

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Microbiology and Immunology (Medicine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Mathias Lichtenheld - Committee Member

Second Committee Member

Robert Levy - Committee Member

Third Committee Member

Mary Lou King - Committee Member

Fourth Committee Member

Patrick Haslett - Committee Member

Fifth Committee Member

Rebecca Adkins - Mentor

Sixth Committee Member

Lester Kobzik - Outside Committee Member


Neonatal immune responses are typically deficient against a wide variety of antigens, including alloantigens, vaccine antigens, and infectious agents. These responses are characterized by Th2-skewed cytokine production, and deficient Th1 and cytotoxic responses. However, these deficient responses can be boosted to adult levels by the use of strong, Th1 promoting agents. This demonstrates that neonates are capable of developing mature immune responses under specific conditions. Using two different murine models, we have found that neonates develop robust Th and cytotoxic responses, which under some antigenic conditions significantly exceed those of adults. First, using a model of early life exposure to noninherited maternal antigens (NIMA), we found that murine neonates develop robust in vivo cytotoxic responses to low doses of alloantigens. Importantly, primary in vivo cytotoxic responses to alloantigen developed during the neonatal period, and persisted into adulthood. Neonates developed similar memory cytotoxic responses to donor spleen cells, bone marrow, and stem cell-enriched (Lin-) bone marrow cells, suggesting that the exposure dose is more important than the type of transplanted donor cell for the development of cytotoxicity. NIMA-exposed neonates also developed vigorous primary and memory allospecific Th1/Th2 responses which exceeded the responses of adults. These findings suggest that early exposure to low levels of NIMA may lead to long term immunological priming of all arms of T cell adaptive immunity. Second, we characterized the phenotype and function of neonatal recent thymic emigrants (RTE). RTE are the predominant cell type in murine neonates, and are present at higher frequencies within the neonatal CD4+ compartment than in adults. Our data demonstrate that RTE from murine neonates and adults are phenotypically and functionally distinct. In particular, although the magnitude of RTE cytokine responses from both age groups is dependent on the conditions of activation, neonatal RTE consistently exhibited higher levels of effector cytokine production than adult RTE. In particular, activation of neonatal RTE in the presence of IL-7 lead to greatly increased IFNgamma production, while adult responses were not altered. Overall, neonatal RTE responses were more plastic than those of adult RTE, as both Th1 and Th2 responses were altered in neonates using various activation conditions, while only Th2 responses were consistently changed in adults. Finally, in contrast to adult RTE, neonatal RTE proliferated in response to IL-7 stimulation at very early timepoints. This was associated with faster kinetics of IL-7Ralpha downregulation and higher levels of pSTAT5 in neonatal RTE. These quantitative and qualitative differences in neonatal RTE populations may largely explain the diverse responses that are elicited in neonates in response to different antigens, especially under those conditions in which Th1 responses are enhanced (i.e., exposure to NIMA alloantigens). Taken together, these data demonstrate that neonatal T cell responses are actually highly plastic, instead of intrinsically deficient. Furthermore, if given optimal stimulation conditions, neonatal responses can actually exceed those produced by adults.


NIMA; Non-inherited Maternal Antigen; Recent Thymic Emigrants; Cytotoxicity; Th1; Th2; Cytotoxicity