Background: The ‘old friends’ hypothesis posits that reduced exposure to previously ubiquitous microorganisms is one factor involved in the increased rates of allergic diseases. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) may be one of the “old friends” hypothesized to help prevent allergic diseases. We sought to elucidate whether early-life CMV infection is associated with childhood atopy via perturbations of the gut microbiota. Methods: Participants were recruited from a population-based birth cohort (CHILD study) and followed prospectively until age five years in four Canadian cities. A total of 928 participants provided stool microbiome data, urine for CMV testing, skin-prick tests, and questionnaires-based detailed environmental exposures. CMV infection was assessed in the first year of life while the main outcome was defined by persistent sensitization to any allergen at ages 1, 3, and 5 years. Results: Early CMV infection was associated with increased beta and decreased alpha diversity of the gut microbiota. Both changes in diversity measures and early CMV infection were associated with persistent allergic sensitization at age 5 years (aOR= 2.08; 95%CI: 1, 4.33). Mediation analysis demonstrated that perturbation of gut microbial composition explains 30% of the association. Conclusions: Early-life CMV infection is associated with an alteration in the intestinal microbiota, which mediates the effect of the infection on childhood atopy. This work indicates that preventing CMV infection would not put children at increased risk of developing atopy. Rather, a CMV vaccine, in addition to preventing CMV-associated morbidity and mortality, might reduce the risk of childhood allergic diseases.
Background: Asthma is a multifactorial disease with numerous associated genetic and environmental risk factors, however, gene-environment interactions are poorly understood in modulating disease risk. This study determines the polygenic effects of multiple genetic loci and interactions with environmental exposures during early infancy on risk of recurrent wheeze and asthma in pre-school aged children. Methods: We conducted genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and applied a thresholding method to calculate genetic risk scores (GRS) of recurrent wheeze and asthma in 2835 children of the CHILD Cohort Study. Recurrent wheeze was defined as two or more episodes in one year between ages 2-5 years and asthma was diagnosed at age 5 years. In addition, we tested for interaction effects between the GRS and environmental exposures on these respiratory outcomes. Results: GWAS identified associations with known asthma loci on chromosome 17q12 - 17q21 (p < 5e-8). GRS analysis determined that the weighted addition of alleles at four childhood-asthma loci correlated with more than 2-fold higher prevalence of recurrent wheeze (p =1.5e-08) and asthma (p = 9.4e-08) between high vs. low GRS groups. In addition, the GRS interacts with breastfeeding (p = 0.02) and traffic air pollution (NO2; p < 0.01) during the first year of life to modulate risk of recurrent wheeze and childhood-onset asthma. Conclusions: This study reports polygenic effects of multiple genetic loci, which interact with early-life exposures, to determine risk of respiratory outcomes during early childhood. Thus, asthma risk may be determined early in infancy when exposures may modulate genetic risk.