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Curr Biol. 2006 Jun 20;16(12):1206-10.

Insect immunity shows specificity in protection upon secondary pathogen exposure.

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Institute for Integrative Biology, Experimental Ecology, Eidgnössische Technische Hochschule Zentrum, CHN, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland.


Immunological memory in vertebrates, conferring lasting specific protection after an initial pathogen exposure, has implications for a broad spectrum of evolutionary, epidemiological, and medical phenomena . However, the existence of specificity in protection upon secondary pathogen exposure in invertebrates remains controversial . To separate this functional phenomenon from a particular mechanism, we refer to it as specific immune priming. We investigate the presence of specific immune priming in workers of the social insect Bombus terrestris. Using three bacterial pathogens, we test whether a prior homologous pathogen exposure gives a benefit in terms of long-term protection against a later challenge, over and above a heterologous combination. With a reciprocally designed initial and second-exposure protocol (i.e., all combinations of bacteria were tested), we demonstrate, even several weeks after the clearance of a first exposure, increased protection and narrow specificity upon secondary exposure. This demonstrates that the invertebrate immune system is functionally capable of unexpectedly specific and durable induced protection. Ultimately, despite general broad differences between vertebrates and invertebrates, the ability of both immune systems to show specificity in protection suggests that their immune defenses have found comparable solutions to similar selective pressures over evolutionary time.

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