Malnutrition, which is widespread in developing countries, may be particularly devastating during childhood, when tissue development is occurring and nutrient requirements are great. Since protein-energy malnutrition potentially involves many cellular alterations, we have evaluated gene expression changes in lymphocytes from malnourished children using differential hybridization cloning. A cDNA library was generated from well-nourished children and differential screenings were performed with cDNAs obtained from well-nourished and malnourished children who presented with bacterial gastrointestinal infections. Differential expression was detected for genes involved in cell development and differentiation, and for genes involved in lymphocyte and mitochondrial functions. The genes detected in the present study suggest mechanisms for the changes in cell growth and immune function that are associated with protein-energy malnutrition. Two down-regulated genes in malnourished children may represent mechanisms of protection against immunosuppression. This finding clearly merits further investigation.
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