Open Access Research article

Cord blood neutrophils display a galectin-3 responsive phenotype accentuated by vaginal delivery

Martina Sundqvist1, Veronica Osla1, Bo Jacobsson2, Anna Rudin1, Karin Sävman3* and Anna Karlsson1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Rheumatology and Inflammation Research, Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

2 Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Gothenburg, Sweden

3 Perinatal Centre, Department of Physiology and Neuroscience and Department of Pediatrics, Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden

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BMC Pediatrics 2013, 13:128  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-13-128

Published: 21 August 2013



Term neonates are at increased risk of infections due to undeveloped immune mechanisms, and proper neutrophil function is important for perinatal immune defence. Galectin-3, an endogenous β-galactoside-binding lectin, is emerging as an inflammatory mediator and we have previously shown that primed/activated, but not resting, adult neutrophils respond to this lectin by production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). We investigated if galectin-3 is of importance in perinatal immune defence, focusing on plasma levels and neutrophil responsiveness.


Neutrophils were isolated from peripheral blood of healthy adults and cord blood (CB) after elective Caesarean section (CSCB) and vaginal delivery (VDCB). ROS production was measured by chemiluminescence, L-selectin expression by flow cytometry, and interleukin-8 (IL-8) and galectin-3 concentrations by ELISA. Statistical evaluations were performed using the Mann–Whitney test.


In response to galectin-3, CSCB neutrophils showed a small but clear ROS production not evident in adult cells, signifying that neonatal neutrophils exist in a primed state. IL-8 production was elevated in CSCB cells while L-selectin exposure was equal to adult cells. Comparing CSCB to VDCB neutrophils, the latter showed an extensive galectin-3 responsiveness, indicating that the degree of priming is dependent on mode of delivery. VDCB neutrophils were increasingly prone to shed L-selectin, while the amount of IL-8 was similar to CSCB cells. The endogenous galectin-3 levels were higher in neonatal as compared to adult plasma, unaffected by mode of delivery.


Neutrophils enter a pre-primed state already in the fetus. Upon exposure to the inflammatory stimuli that are associated with labor, the neutrophils develop a reactive phenotype with extensive priming features.

Cord blood, Galectin-3; Neonatal immunity; Neutrophils; Priming; Reactive oxygen species