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Early Development of Antibodies to Cockroach and Mouse Proteins Associated with Greater Risk for Asthma and Allergies in Preschool Children


New York, NY -- A study released by researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health shows that developing antibodies to cockroach and mouse proteins is associated with a greater risk for wheeze, hay fever, and eczema in preschool urban children as young as three years of age. The study, published in the November 2008 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, is the first to focus on the links between antibody responses to cockroach and mouse proteins and respiratory and allergic symptoms in such a young age group.

“These findings increase our understanding of the relationship between immune responses to indoor allergens and the development of asthma and allergies in very young children,” said lead author of the study, Kathleen Donohue, MD, fellow in Allergy and Immunology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. The study found evidence that the likelihood of developing wheeze, hay fever, and eczema in preschool urban children was significantly increased among the children who were exposed to antibodies of both cockroach and mouse allergens.

This study is part of a broader multi-year research project launched in 1998 by CCCEH that examines the health effects of exposure of pregnant women and babies to indoor and outdoor air pollutants, pesticides, and allergens. The Center’s prior research findings have shown that exposure to multiple environmental pollutants is associated with an increase in risk for asthma symptoms among children. These latest findings contribute to a further understanding of how the environment impacts child health.

“Our findings have significant public health implications,” said Rachel L. Miller, MD, Irving Assistant Professor of Medicine and Environmental Health at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center; director, Asthma Project; associate director and lead physician scientist, DISCOVER Initiative, Mailman School of Public Health’s CCCEH; and senior investigator on the study. “These are valuable findings given the high prevalence of asthma in New York City and elsewhere. They highlight the importance of reducing exposure to cockroach and mouse allergens at a very early age for susceptible children.”

The researchers suggest that interventions directed towards cockroach and mouse allergen reduction may also have long-term benefit to inner city children who are susceptible to these exposures.

The study was co-authored by researchers from the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. Other investigators on the study include Umaima Al-alem, PhD, Matthew Perzanowski, PhD, Ginger Chew, ScD, Alina Johnson, Adnan Divjan, Elizabeth Kelvin, PhD, Lori Hoepner, MPH, and Frederica Perera, DrPH, director of CCCEH.

The investigators controlled for exposure to tobacco smoke and maternal history of asthma, both of which may influence the likelihood of developing asthma or allergies. A prospective follow-up of this birth cohort will help determine whether the development of anti-cockroach, anti-mouse immunoglobulin (Ig) E by age three is associated with impaired lung function and/or persistent asthma, according to the researchers.

The study was funded by National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences.

About the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (Frederica Perera, DrPH, Director)
The Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health – part of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University – is a leading research organization dedicated to understanding and preventing environmentally related disease in children. Founded in 1998, the Center conducts research in New York City, including a World Trade Center Study, as well as Krakow, Poland, and Chongqing, China. Its mission is to improve the respiratory health and cognitive development of children and to reduce their cancer risk by identifying environmental toxicants and conditions related to poverty that increase their risk of disease. In NYC, the Center collaborates with residents and partner organizations in Washington Heights, Harlem and the South Bronx to share research findings with the local communities in ways that are meaningful and usable in daily life. (

About the Mailman School of Public Health
The only accredited school of public health in New York City, and among the first in the nation, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health provides instruction and research opportunities to more than 1000 graduate students in pursuit of masters and doctoral degrees. Its students and more than 300 multi-disciplinary faculty engage in research and service in the city, nation, and around the world, concentrating on biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health policy and management, population and family health, and sociomedical sciences.


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