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Insect Biochem Mol Biol. 2015 Sep;64:91-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ibmb.2015.08.003. Epub 2015 Aug 6.

Insect parents improve the anti-parasitic and anti-bacterial defence of their offspring by priming the expression of immune-relevant genes.

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Institute of Biology, Dahlem Centre of Plant Sciences, Freie Universität Berlin, Haderslebener Str. 9, 12163 Berlin, Germany.
Institute of Biology, Dahlem Centre of Plant Sciences, Freie Universität Berlin, Haderslebener Str. 9, 12163 Berlin, Germany. Electronic address:


Insect parents that experienced an immune challenge are known to prepare (prime) the immune activity of their offspring for improved defence. This phenomenon has intensively been studied by analysing especially immunity-related proteins. However, it is unknown how transgenerational immune priming affects transcript levels of immune-relevant genes of the offspring upon an actual threat. Here, we investigated how an immune challenge of Manduca sexta parents affects the expression of immune-related genes in their eggs that are attacked by parasitoids. Furthermore, we addressed the question whether the transgenerational immune priming of expression of genes in the eggs is still traceable in adult offspring. Our study revealed that a parental immune challenge did not affect the expression of immune-related genes in unparasitised eggs. However, immune-related genes in parasitised eggs of immune-challenged parents were upregulated to a higher level than those in parasitised eggs of unchallenged parents. Hence, this transgenerational immune priming of the eggs was detected only "on demand", i.e. upon parasitoid attack. The priming effects were also traceable in adult female progeny of immune-challenged parents which showed higher transcript levels of several immune-related genes in their ovaries than non-primed progeny. Some of the primed genes showed enhanced expression even when the progeny was left unchallenged, whereas other genes were upregulated to a greater extent in primed female progeny than non-primed ones only when the progeny itself was immune-challenged. Thus, the detection of transgenerational immune priming strongly depends on the analysed genes and the presence or absence of an actual threat for the offspring. We suggest that M. sexta eggs laid by immune-challenged parents "afford" to upregulate the transcription of immunity-related genes only upon attack, because they have the chance to be endowed by parentally directly transferred protective proteins.


Egg parasitoid; Immune-related genes; Insect immunity; Manduca sexta; Transgenerational immune priming; Trichogramma evanescens

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