In this review we discuss the effects of microbial exposure on the B cell repertoire. Neonatal exposure to conserved bacterial carbohydrates and phospholipids permanently reprograms the natural antibody repertoire directed toward these antigens by clonal expansion, alterations in clonal dominance, and increased serum antibody levels. These epitopes are present not only in bacterial cell walls, but also in common environmental allergens. Neonatal immunization with bacterial polysaccharide vaccines results in attenuated allergic airway responses to fungi-, house dust mite-, and cockroach-associated allergens in mouse models. The similarities between mouse and human natural antibody repertoires suggest that reduced microbial exposure in children may have the opposite effect, providing a potential mechanistic explanation for the hygiene hypothesis. We propose that understanding the effects of childhood infections on the natural antibody repertoire and the mechanisms of antibody-mediated immunoregulation observed in allergy models will lead to the development of prevention/interventional strategies for treatment of allergic asthma.


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