Delayed Acquisition of Neonatal Reflexes in Newborn Primates Receiving a Thimerosal Comtaining Hepatitis B Vaccine: Influence of Gestational Age and Birthweight

Laura Hewitson (1,2), Lisa A Houser (1), Gene Sackett (4), Jaime L. Tomko (1), David Atwood (5), Lisa Blue (5), E. Railey White (5)

(1) Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. (2) Thoughtful House Center for Children, Austin Texas, USA. (3) Independent British Psychological Society Chartered Scientist, Cambridge, United Kingdom. (4) Washington National Primate Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle Washington, USA. (5) Department of Chemistry, University of Kentucky, Lexington Kentucky, USA.

This study examined whether acquisition of neonatal reflexes in newborn rhesus macaques was influenced by receipt of a single neonatal dose of hepatitis B vaccine containing the preservative thimerosal (Th). Hepatitis B vaccine containing a weight-adjusted Th dose was administered to male macaques within 24 h of birth (n = 13). Unexposed animals received saling placebo (n = 4) or no injection (n = 3). Infants were tested daily for acquisition of nine survival, motor, and sensorimotor reflexes. In exposed animals there was a significant delay in the acquisition of root, snout, and suck reflexes, compared with unexposed animals. No neonatal responses were significantly delayed in unexposed animals. Gestational age (GA) and birth weight (BW) were not significantly correlated. Cox regression models were used to evaluate main effects and interactions of exposure with BW and GA as independent predictors and time-invariant covariates. Significant main effects remained for exposure on root and suck when controlling for GA and BW, such that exposed animals were relatively delayed in time-to-criterion. Interaction models indicated there were various interactions between exposure, GA, and BW and that inclusion of the relevant interaction terms significantly improved model fit. This, in turn, indicated that lower BW and/or lower GA exacerbated the adverse effects following vaccine exposure. This primate model provides a possible means of assessing adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes from neonatal Th-containing hepatitis B vaccine exposure, particularly in infants of lower GA or BW. The mechanisms underlying these effects and the requirements for Th requires further study.

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