No evidence of metabolic costs following adaptive immune activation or reactivation in house sparrows

Publication Name

Biology Letters


The energy cost of adaptive immune activation in endotherms is typically quantified from changes in resting metabolic rate following exposure to a novel antigen. An implicit assumption of this technique is that all variation in energy costs following antigenic challenge is due solely to adaptive immunity, while ignoring potential changes in the energy demands of ongoing bodily functions. We critically assess this assumption by measuring both basal metabolic rate (BMR) and exercise-induced maximal metabolic rate (MMR) in house sparrows before and after the primary and two subsequent vaccinations with either saline (sham) or two novel antigens (keyhole limpet haemocyanin and sheep red blood cells; KLH and SRBC, respectively). We also examined the effect of inducing male breeding levels of testosterone (T) on immune responses and their metabolic costs in both males and females. Although there was a moderate decrease in KLH antibody formation in T-treated birds, there was no effect of T on BMR, MMR or immunity to SRBC. There was no effect of vaccination on BMR but, surprisingly, all vaccinated birds maintained MMR better than sham-treated birds as the experiment progressed. Our findings caution against emphasizing energy costs or nutrient diversion as being responsible for reported fitness reductions following activation of adaptive immunity.





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Funding Sponsor

Australian Research Council



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