Natalia Torow, Timothy W. Hand, Mathias W. Hornef

The mucosal immune system of neonates goes through successive, non-redundant phases that support the developmental needs of the infant and ultimately establish immune homeostasis. These phases are informed by environmental cues, including dietary and microbial stimuli, but also evolutionary developmental programming that functions independently of external stimuli. The immune response to exogenous stimuli is tightly regulated during early life; thresholds are set within this neonatal “window of opportunity” that govern how the immune system will respond to diet, the microbiota, and pathogenic microorganisms in the future. Thus, changes in early-life exposure, such as breastfeeding or environmental and microbial stimuli, influence immunological and metabolic homeostasis and the risk of developing diseases such as asthma/allergy and obesity.