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Am Nat. 2003 Mar;161(3):367-79.

Assessing the cost of mounting an immune response.

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  • 1Laboratoire de Parasitologie Evolutive, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Unité Mixte de Recherche 7103, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris Cedex 05, France.


The evolution of parasite resistance has often been assumed to be governed by antagonistic selection pressures. Defense against pathogens, by mounting an immune response, confers evident benefits but may also incur costs, so that the optimal level of defense is expected to depend on the balance between benefits and costs. Although the benefits of immune surveillance are well known, estimates of costs are still equivocal. Here we studied the behavioral and physiological modifications associated with exposure to a nonreplicating antigen (lipopolysaccharide [LPS] of Escherichia coli) in a passerine species, the house sparrow (Passer domesticus). We further investigated whether the behavioral and physiological changes provoked by LPS induced measurable repercussions on life-history traits, such as the breeding effort and reproductive success. Finally, we tested whether the trade-off between immune activation and breeding effort was modulated by the workload required to feed the brood. Exposure to LPS reduced activity and increased body mass loss of captive individuals; similarly, LPS injection induced a dramatic drop in feeding rate and reproductive success of breeding females. However, this reduction depended on brood size, suggesting that the strength of the trade-off between immune activation and reproduction was affected by the workload required to feed the brood. Overall, this study stresses the magnitude of costs associated with mounting immune responses and the ecological and evolutionary consequences for natural populations.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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