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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Oct 7;270(1528):2025-31.

Costs of immune response in cold-stressed laboratory mice selected for high and low basal metabolism rates.

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  • 1Institute of Biology, University of Białystok, Swierkowa 20b, 15-950, Białystok, Poland.


To study whether mounting an immune response is energetically costly, mice from two lines divergently selected for high (H-BMR) and low (L-BMR) basal metabolic rate (BMR) were immunized with sheep red blood cells. Their energy budgets were then additionally burdened by sudden transfer from an ambient temperature of 23 degrees C to 5 degrees C. We found that the immune response of H-BMR mice was lower than that of L-BMR mice. However, the interaction between line affiliation and ambient temperature was not significant and cold exposure did not result in immunosuppression in either line. At 23 degrees C the animals of both lines seemed to cover the costs of immune response by increasing food consumption and digestive efficiency. This was not observed at 5 degrees C, so these costs must have been covered at the expense of other components of the energy budget. Cold exposure itself elicited a considerable increase in food intake and the mass of internal organs, which were also heavier in H-BMR than in L-BMR mice. However, irrespective of the temperature or line affiliation, immunized mice had smaller intestines, while cold-exposed immunized mice had smaller hearts. Furthermore, the observed larger mass of the liver and kidneys in immunized mice of both lines kept at 23 degrees C was not observed at 5 degrees C. Hence, immunization compromised upregulation of the function of metabolically active internal organs, essential for meeting the energetic demands of cold. We conclude that the difficulties with a straightforward demonstration of the energetic costs of immune responses in these animals stem from the extreme flexibility of their energy budgets.

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