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Foetus’s Gender May Affect Mother’s Immunity

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The researchers found women carrying female foetuses show a heightened inflammatory response which affect immunity of mothers. Researchers followed 80 pregnant women and examined whether women exhibited different levels of immune markers called cytokines based on foetal sex.

Analyses were conducted on levels of cytokines in the blood and levels produced by a sample of immune cells that were exposed to bacteria in the lab. The women didn’t exhibit differences in blood cytokine levels based on foetal sex, they did find that the immune cells of women carrying female foetuses produced more proinflammatory cytokines when exposed to bacteria. It means that women carrying female foetuses exhibited a heightened inflammatory response when their immune system was challenged, compared to women carrying male foetuses.

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. Increased inflammation among women carrying female foetuses 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 foetus. Maternal inflammation can affect outcomes related to the foetus, like timing of birth, but more research is necessary to understand how foetal sex is associated with maternal inflammation.


Mitchell A.M., Palettas M. and Christian L.M., 2017, “Fetal sex is associated with maternal stimulated cytokine production, but not serum cytokine levels, in human pregnancy,” Brain, behavior, and immunity; 60: 32-37. [Web Reference]

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