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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Jul 23;99(15):9916-8. Epub 2002 Jul 3.

Copulation corrupts immunity: a mechanism for a cost of mating in insects.

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Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, United Kingdom.


There are well documented costs of mating in insects but little evidence for underlying mechanisms. Here, we provide experimental evidence for a hormone-based mechanism that reduces immunity as a result of mating. We examined the mealworm beetle Tenebrio molitor and show that (i) mating reduces a major humoral immune effector-system (phenoloxidase) in both sexes, and (ii) that this down-regulation is mediated by juvenile hormone. Because both juvenile hormone and phenoloxidase have highly conserved functions across all insects, the identified mechanism is similarly likely to be highly conserved. The positive physiological function of mating-induced juvenile hormone secretion is gamete and accessory gland production: we propose that its negative effects on immune function are the consequence of physiological antagonism. Therefore, we have identified a physiological tradeoff between mating and immunity. Our results suggest that increasing mating success can result in increasing periods of immune suppression, which in turn implies that reproductively successful individuals may be more vulnerable to infection by, and the negative fitness effects of, pathogens.

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