Developing Immunity in New-Borns
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Any new-born animal is born from a sterile environment (e.g. a mother’s womb) into an environment which is filled with microbes and pathogens. Therefore it is important that the newly born animal is able to protect itself in its new, harsh environment. In most species (especially those with longer gestation periods) at birth, the immune system is well on its way to being fully developed but is not yet complete, taking some time (up to several weeks) to become fully functional.
For the immune system to develop, antigenic stimulation must occur, along with the development of antigen sensitive cells. This means that for the first few weeks of a new-borns life they are vulnerable to infection as their immune system is not yet complete. To overcome this, a temporary support system is provided by the mother. The mother is able to pass to her offspring antibodies and T-cells. These are able to temporarily support the animal whilst it builds up its own immune system. This is known as passive immunity.
The Developing Immune System
The development of the immune system in mammals as a foetus follows a consistent pattern. The initial lymphoid organ which develops is the thymus which is then followed by the secondary lymphoid organs (e.g. tonsils, Peyer’s patches, spleen, adenoids, skin etc.). The ability of the foetus to initiate a cell-mediated immune response develops around the same time as antibody production begins.