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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Jul 3;98(14):7904-9. Epub 2001 Jun 19.

Increased sexual activity reduces male immune function in Drosophila melanogaster.

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Department of Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA.


Despite the benefits of resistance, susceptibility to infectious disease is commonplace. Although specific susceptibility may be considered an inevitable consequence of the co-evolutionary arms race between parasite and host, a more general constraint may arise from the cost of an immune response. This "cost" hypothesis predicts a tradeoff between immune defense and other components of fitness. In particular, a tradeoff between immunity and sexually selected male behavior has been proposed. Here we provide experimental support for the direct phenotypic tradeoff between sexual activity and immunity by studying the antibacterial immune response in Drosophila melanogaster. Males exposed to more females showed a reduced ability to clear a bacterial infection, an effect that we experimentally link to changes in sexual activity. Our results suggest immunosuppression is an important cost of reproduction and that immune function and levels of disease susceptibility will be influenced by sexual selection.

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