Hancock Lab

< Back to Articles



Neonates have heightened susceptibility to infections. The biological mechanisms are incompletely understood but thought to be related to age-specific adaptations in immunity due to resource constraints during immune system development and growth. We present here an extended analysis of our proteomics study of peripheral blood-plasma from a study of healthy full-term newborns delivered vaginally, collected at the day of birth and on day of life (DOL) 1, 3, or 7, to cover the first week of life. The plasma proteome was characterized by LC-MS using our established 96-well plate format plasma proteomics platform. We found increasing acute phase proteins and a reduction of respective inhibitors on DOL1. Focusing on the complement system, we found increased plasma concentrations of all major components of the classical complement pathway and the membrane attack complex (MAC) from birth onward, except C7 which seems to have near adult levels at birth. In contrast, components of the lectin and alternative complement pathways mainly decreased. A comparison to whole blood messenger RNA (mRNA) levels enabled characterization of mRNA and protein levels in parallel, and for 23 of the 30 monitored complement proteins, the whole blood transcript information by itself was not reflective of the plasma protein levels or dynamics during the first week of life. Analysis of immunoglobulin (Ig) mRNA and protein levels revealed that IgM levels and synthesis increased, while the plasma concentrations of maternally transferred IgG1-4 decreased in accordance with their in vivo half-lives. The neonatal plasma ratio of IgG1 to IgG2-4 was increased compared to adult values, demonstrating a highly efficient IgG1 transplacental transfer process. Partial compensation for maternal IgG degradation was achieved by endogenous synthesis of the IgG1 subtype which increased with DOL. The findings were validated in a geographically distinct cohort, demonstrating a consistent developmental trajectory of the newborn’s immune system over the first week of human life across continents. Our findings indicate that the classical complement pathway is central for newborn immunity and our approach to characterize the plasma proteome in parallel with the transcriptome will provide crucial insight in immune ontogeny and inform new approaches to prevent and treat diseases.