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PLoS One. 2013 May 20;8(5):e63392. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0063392. Print 2013.

Parental legacy in insects: variation of transgenerational immune priming during offspring development.

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Institute of Biology - Applied Zoology/Animal Ecology, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany.


In insects, a parental immune challenge can prepare and enhance offspring immune activity. Previous studies of such transgenerational immune priming (TGIP) mainly focused on a single offspring life stage. However, different developmental stages may be exposed to different risks and show different susceptibility to parental immune priming. Here we addressed the question (i) whether TGIP effects on the immunity of Manduca sexta offspring vary among the different developmental offspring stages. We differentiated between unchallenged and immunochallenged offspring; for the latter type of offspring, we further investigated (ii) whether TGIP has an impact on the time that enhanced immune levels persist after offspring immune challenge. Finally, we determined (iii) whether TGIP effects on offspring performance depend on the offspring stage. Our results show that TGIP effects on phenoloxidase (PO) activity, but not on antibacterial activity, vary among unchallenged offspring stages. In contrast, TGIP effects on PO and antibacterial activity did not vary among immunochallenged offspring stages. The persistence of enhanced immune levels in immunochallenged offspring was dependent on the parental immune state. Antibacterial (but not PO) activity in offspring of immunochallenged parents decreased over five days after pupal immune challenge, whereas no significant change over time was detectable in offspring of control parents. Finally, TGIP effects on the developmental time of unchallenged offspring varied among stages; young larvae of immunochallenged parents developed faster and gained more weight than larvae of control parents. However, offspring females of immunochallenged parents laid fewer eggs than females derived from control parents. These findings suggest that the benefits which the offspring gains from TGIP during juvenile development are paid by the adults with reduced reproductive power. Our study shows that TGIP effects vary among offspring stages and depend on the type of immunity (PO or antibacterial activity) as well as the time past offspring immune challenge.

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