Intergenerational effects of nutrition on immunity: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Catherine E Grueber, Lindsey J Gray, Katrina M Morris, Stephen J Simpson, Alistair M Senior

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Diet and immunity are both highly complex processes through which organisms interact with their environment and adapt to variable conditions. Parents that are able to transmit information to their offspring about prevailing environmental conditions have a selective advantage by 'priming' the physiology of their offspring. We used a meta-analytic approach to test the effect of parental diet on offspring immune responses. Using the geometric framework for nutrition (a method for analysing diet compositions wherein food nutrient components are expressed as axes in a Cartesian coordinate space) to define dietary manipulations in terms of their energy and macronutrient compositions, we compiled the results of 226 experiments from 38 published papers on the intergenerational effects of diet on immunity, across a range of study species and immunological responses. We observed intergenerational impacts of parental nutrition on a number of offspring immunological processes, including expression of pro-inflammatory biomarkers as well as decreases in anti-inflammatory markers in response to certain parental diets. For example, across our data set as a whole (encompassing several types of dietary manipulation), dietary stress in parents was seen to significantly increase pro-inflammatory cytokine levels measured in offspring (overall d = 0.575). All studies included in our analysis were from experiments in which the offspring were raised on a normal or control diet, so our findings suggest that a nutrition-dependent immune state can be inherited, and that this immune state is maintained in the short term, despite offspring returning to an 'optimal' diet. We demonstrate how the geometric framework for nutrition can be used to disentangle the role that different forms of dietary manipulation can have on intergenerational immunity. For example, offspring B-cell responses were significantly decreased when parents were raised on a range of different diets. Similarly, our approach allowed us to show that a parental diet elevated in protein (regardless of energy composition and relative to a control diet) can increase expression of inflammatory markers while decreasing B-cell-associated markers. By conducting a systematic review of the literature, we have identified important gaps that impair our understanding of the intergenerational effects of diet, such as a paucity of experimental studies involving increased protein and decreased energy, and a lack of studies directed at the whole-organism consequences of these processes, such as immune resilience to infection. The results of our analyses inform our understanding of the effects of diet on physiological state across diverse biological fields, including biomedical sciences, maintenance of agricultural breed stock and conservation breeding programs, among others.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1108-1124
JournalBiological reviews of the cambridge philosophical society
Issue number2
Early online date27 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'Intergenerational effects of nutrition on immunity: a systematic review and meta-analysis'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this