The study of immunity has become an important area of investigation for researchers in a wide range of areas outside the traditional discipline of immunology. For the last several decades, psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) has strived to identify key interactions among the nervous, endocrine and immune systems and behavior. More recently, the field of ecological immunology (ecoimmunology) has been established within the perspectives of ecology and evolutionary biology, sharing with PNI an appreciation of the environmental influences on immune function. The primary goal of ecoimmunology is to understand immune function within a broadly integrative, organismal context, typically from an ultimate, evolutionary perspective. To accomplish this ecoimmunology, like PNI, has become a broadly integrative field of investigation, combining diverse approaches from evolution and ecology to endocrinology and neurobiology. The disciplines of PNI and ecoimmunology, with their unique yet complementary perspectives and methodologies, have much to offer one another. Researchers in both fields, however, remain largely unaware of each other's findings despite attempts at integration. The goal of this review is to share with psychoneuroimmunologists and other mechanistically-oriented researchers some of the core concepts and principles, as well as relevant recent findings, within ecoimmunology with the hope that this information will prove relevant to their own research programs. More broadly, our goal is to attempt to integrate both the proximate and ultimate perspectives offered by PNI and ecoimmunology respectively into a common theoretical framework for understanding neuro-endocrine-immune interactions and behavior in a larger ecological, evolutionary context.
cytokines; sickness behavior; coinfection; energetics of immunity; wisdom of the body
Psychosocial stress, specifically social isolation, is an important risk factor for the development of a variety of psychological and physiological disorders. Changes in immune function have been hypothesized to mediate this relationship. The current study used the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) model of isolation-induced depressive-like behavior to test whether social isolation led to changes in innate immune function. Specifically, we used hemolytic complement (CH50) and bacteria killing assays to assess complement activity, in paired or singly housed male and female prairie voles. Further, in a second experiment we tested whether females exposed to an additional short-term social stressor, a resident intruder trial, would show changes in immune function as well as enhanced HPA activity as indicated by elevated plasma corticosterone levels. Socially isolated animals, regardless of sex, had significantly reduced CH50s and bacteria killing ability. Socially isolated females exposed to a resident intruder stressor also showed reduced CH50s and bacteria killing ability as well as significant increases in aggressive behavior, however, they did not show elevated circulating corticosterone levels. Collectively, these data will help inform our understanding of the relationship between social isolation and physiological and psychological health.
CH50; corticosterone; hemolytic complement; psychosocial stress; aggression; Microtus ochrogaster
Many seasonally breeding species, including Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus), exhibit seasonal variation in sickness responses. One hypothesis regarding the mechanism of this variation is that sickness intensity tracks an animal's energetic state, such that sickness is attenuated in the season that an animal has the lowest fat stores. Energetic state may be signaled via leptin, an adipose hormone that provides a signal of fat stores. Siberian hamsters respond to extended housing in short, winter-like days by reducing fat stores and leptin levels, relative to those housed in long, summer-like days. Sickness responses are also attenuated in short-day hamsters as compared to long-day hamsters. We hypothesized that leptin provides a physiological signal by which seasonally breeding animals modulate sickness responses, such that animals with higher leptin levels show increased sickness intensity. To test this, we provided short-day hamsters with a long-day-like leptin signal and assessed their responses to lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a sickness-inducing antigen. We compared these responses to short-day vehicle-, long-day vehicle-, and long-day leptin-treated hamsters. Unexpectedly, LPS induced a hypothermic response (rather than fever) in all groups. Short-day vehicle-treated hamsters exhibited the greatest LPS-induced hypothermia, and leptin treatment attenuated this response, making hypothermia more long-day-like. Contrary to our hypothesis, short-day leptin-treated hamsters showed the least pronounced LPS-induced anorexia among all groups. These results suggest that leptin may mediate some but not all aspects of seasonal sickness variation in this species. Future studies should be targeted at determining roles of other energetic hormones in regulating seasonal sickness response variation.
lipopolysaccharide; energetic; seasonality; ecoimmunology; infection-induced hypothermia; infection-induced anorexia
Most free-living animals have finite energy stores that they must allocate to different physiological and behavioral processes. In times of energetic stress, trade-offs in energy allocation among these processes may occur. The manifestation of trade-offs may depend on the source (e.g., glucose, lipids) and severity of energy limitation. In this study, we investigated energetic trade-offs between the reproductive and immune systems by experimentally limiting energy availability to female Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) with 2-Deoxy-D-glucose, a compound that disrupts cellular utilization of glucose. We observed how glucoprivation at two levels of severity affected allocation to reproduction and immunity. Additionally, we treated a subset of these hamsters with leptin, an adipose hormone that provides a direct signal of available fat stores, in order to determine how increasing this signal of fat stores influences glucoprivation-induced trade-offs. We observed trade-offs between the reproductive and immune systems and that these trade-offs depended on the severity of energy limitation and exogenous leptin signaling. The majority of the animals experiencing mild glucoprivation entered anestrus, whereas leptin treatment restored estrous cycling in these animals. Surprisingly, virtually all animals experiencing more severe glucoprivation maintained normal estrous cycling throughout the experiment; however, exogenous leptin resulted in lower antibody production in this group. These data suggest that variation in these trade-offs may be mediated by shifts between glucose and fatty acid utilization. Collectively, the results of the present study highlight the context-dependent nature of these trade-offs, as trade-offs induced by the same metabolic stressor can manifest differently depending on its intensity.
trade-offs; leptin; glucoprivation; 2-Deoxy-D-glucose; Siberian hamsters
Most animals experience marked changes in reproductive status across development that are regulated by changes in the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis. The upstream mechanisms regulating this axis, however, remain less well understood. The neuropeptide kisspeptin serves as a positive regulator of reproduction; the precise actions of kisspeptin on the HPG axis in animals of differing developmental and seasonal reproductive states, however, remain unresolved. Further, sex differences in response to kisspeptin have not been fully explored. In Experiment 1, we investigated whether sensitivity to a broad range of kisspeptin doses differed in adult male and female Siberian hamsters held on reproductively inhibitory or stimulatory photoperiods. In Experiment 2, we asked whether the response to kisspeptin differed across different stages of reproductive development. Males and females displayed elevated luteinizing hormone LH) in response to kisspeptin; however, the sexes differed in this response, with males showing greater LH responses to kisspeptin than females. Hamsters responded to kisspeptin across all stages of reproductive development, although the magnitude of this response differed between animals of different ages and between the sexes. Males showed significant increases in LH at an earlier development age than females; females also showed blunted LH responses during early adulthood whereas males remained relatively constant in their response to kisspeptin. These findings suggest that reproductively active and inactive hamsters are responsive to kisspeptin, but that the sexes differ in their responsiveness. Collectively, these data provide further insight into the basic actions of kisspeptin in the regulation of reproduction, and provide a potential mechanism for the regulation of differential reproductive responses between the sexes.
metastin; GPR54; Kiss1; seasonal reproduction; puberty
Trade-offs between immune function and reproduction are common to many organisms. Nevertheless, high energetic resources may eliminate the need for these trade-offs. In this study, we consider the effects of food availability on these trade-offs in a wild population of female sagebrush lizards (Sceloporus graciosus) during the breeding season. We manipulated food availability by supplementing some lizards but not others. We measured female orange side coloration as an indicator of reproductive state and calculated the bacterial killing capability of collected plasma exposed to Escherichia coli ex vivo as a measure of innate immunity. We found that female lizards show a natural trade-off between reproductive effort and immune function; females under high reproductive investment had lower innate immunity than those at a later reproductive state. We did not detect this trade-off with food supplementation. We show that trade-offs depend on the energetic state of the animal, illustrating that trade-offs between immune function and reproduction can be context-dependent.
context-dependent; energetics; life history; resources
Arginine vasopressin (AVP) and its nonmammalian homolog arginine vasotocin influence social behaviors ranging from affiliation to resident–intruder aggression. Although numerous sites of action have been established for these behavioral effects, the involvement of specific AVP cell groups in the brain is poorly understood, and socially elicited Fos responses have not been quantified for many of the AVP cell groups found in rodents. Surprisingly, this includes the AVP population in the posterior part of the medial bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTMP), which has been extensively implicated, albeit indirectly, in various aspects of affiliation and other social behaviors. We examined the Fos responses of eight hypothalamic and three extra-hypothalamic AVP-immunoreactive (-ir) cell groups to copulation, nonaggressive male–male interaction, and aggressive male–male interaction in both dominant and subordinate C57BL/6J mice. The BSTMP cells exhibited a response profile that was unlike all other cell groups: from a control baseline of ~5% of AVP-ir neurons colocalizing with Fos, colocalization increased significantly to ~12% following nonaggressive male–male interaction, and to ~70% following copulation. Aggressive interactions did not increase colocalization beyond the level observed in nonaggressive male mice. These results suggest that BSTMP neurons in mice may increase AVP-Fos colocalization selectively in response to affiliation-related stimuli, similar to findings in finches. In contrast, virtually all other cell groups were responsive to negative aspects of interaction, either through elevated AVP-Fos colocalization in subordinate animals, positive correlations of AVP-Fos colocalization with bites received, and/or negative correlations of AVP-Fos colocalization with dominance. These findings greatly expand what is known of the contributions of specific brain AVP cell groups to social behavior.
Extended amygdala; Hypothalamus; Neuromodulation; Social behavior
Historically, the brain has been viewed as protected from the infiltration of peripheral hematopoietic cells by the blood-brain barrier. However, numerous immune cell types have been found in the central nervous system (CNS). Mast cells, granulocytic immune cells, are found in the CNS of birds and mammals and their numbers and location are influenced by both extrinsic and intrinsic factors, including reproductive behavior and endocrine status. The present study used female prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) to investigate the interactions between brain mast cells and stimuli associated with estrus induction. Unlike spontaneous ovulators such as rats and mice, female prairie voles are induced into estrus by chemosensory stimuli present in conspecific male urine. Prior to estrus induction, female voles have undetectable concentrations of estrogen that rise rapidly following exposure to a male or male urine. In the first experiment, we examined whether mast cells may be influenced by estrus induction. Female voles exposed to conspecific male urine had increased numbers of mast cells in the main olfactory bulbs and epithalamus (medial habenula), but not the thalamus or median eminence, relative to control groups. Next, to determine if this mast cell increase was the result of elevated estrogen concentrations, female voles were injected with estradiol or vehicle and brain mast cell numbers analyzed. No differences in brain mast cell numbers were observed between estradiol-injected and control females in any brain area investigated. Together, these results lend further support to the contention that mast cell numbers and/or distribution can be influenced by reproductively relevant stimuli and underscore the utility of this vole model for delineating the function of brain mast cells.
Immune; Neuroendocrine; Estrus; Rodent; Hormone; Estrogen
Anthropogenic disturbance is a relevant and widespread facilitator of environmental change and there is clear evidence that it impacts natural populations. While population-level responses to major anthropogenic changes have been well studied, individual physiological responses to mild disturbance can be equally critical to the long-term survival of a species, yet they remain largely unexamined. The current study investigated the impact of seemingly low-level anthropogenic disturbance (ecotourism) on stress responsiveness and specific fitness-related immune measures in different breeding stages of the marine iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus). Specifically, we found stress-induced elevations in plasma corticosterone among tourist-exposed populations relative to undisturbed populations. We also found changes in multiple immunological responses associated with stress-related effects of human disturbance, including bacterial killing ability, cutaneous wound healing, and hemolytic complement activity, and the responses varied according to reproductive state. By identifying health-related consequences of human disturbance, this study provides critical insight into the conservation of a well-known species that has a very distinct ecology. The study also broadens the foundation of knowledge needed to understand the global significance of various levels of human disturbance.
Corticosterone; reproduction; immunity; tourism
Many animals experience marked seasonal fluctuations in environmental conditions. In response, animals display adaptive alterations in physiology and behaviour, including seasonal changes in immune function. During winter, animals must reallocate finite energy stores from relatively costly, less exigent systems (e.g. reproduction and immunity) to systems critical for immediate survival (e.g. thermoregulation). Seasonal changes in immunity are probably mediated by neuroendocrine factors signalling current energetic state. One potential hormonal candidate is insulin, a metabolic hormone released in response to elevated blood glucose levels. The aim of the present study was to explore the potential role of insulin in signalling energy status to the immune system in a seasonally breeding animal, the Siberian hamster (Phodopus sungorus). Specifically, exogenous insulin was administered to male hamsters housed in either long ‘summer-like’ or short ‘winter-like’ days. Animals were then challenged with an innocuous antigen and immune responses were measured. Insulin treatment significantly enhanced humoural immune responses in short, but not long days. In addition, insulin treatment increased food intake and decreased blood glucose levels across photoperiodic treatments. Collectively, these data support the hypothesis that insulin acts as an endocrine signal integrating seasonal energetic changes and immune responses in seasonally breeding rodents.
immunity; energy balance; insulin; antibody response
Seasonal variation in behavior and physiology, including changes in immune function, are common. This variability is elicited by changes in photoperiod and often covaries with fluctuations in both energy reserves and reproductive state. It is unclear, however, whether changes in either variable alone drive seasonal changes in immunity. We investigated the relative contributions of reproduction and energy balance to changes in immune function. To accomplish this, we uncoupled seasonal changes in reproduction from those related to energy balance via daily injections of N-methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA) in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). NMDA is a glutamatergic agonist that blocks short-day induced gonadal regression while leaving short-day declines in body mass unaffected. In Experiment 1, we examined the effect of differing doses of NMDA on testosterone production as a proxy for NMDA effects on reproduction; a dose-dependent rise in testosterone was observed. In Experiment 2, animals were maintained on long or short days and received daily injections of NMDA. After eight weeks all animals underwent a humoral immune challenge. Short-day animals receiving daily injections of NMDA maintained long-day-like gonads, however contrary to our predictions, no trade-off between reproduction or energy balance and immune function was observed. Unexpectedly, NMDA treatment increased immunoglobulin levels in all groups, suggesting NMDA may provide an immunomodulatory signal, presumably through actions on peripheral glutamate receptors. These results support a previous finding that NMDA blocks reproductive regression. In addition, these findings demonstrate a general immunoenhancing effect of NMDA that appears independent of changes in reproductive or energetic state of the animal.
The energetic resources in an organism’s environment are essential for executing a wide range of life history functions, including immunity and reproduction. Most energetic budgets, however, are limited, which can lead to trade-offs among competing functions. Increasing reproductive effort tends to decrease immunity in many cases; and increasing total energy via supplemental feedings can eliminate this effect. Testosterone (T), an important regulator of reproduction, and food availability are thus both potential factors regulating life-history processes, yet they are often tested in isolation of each other. In this study, we considered the effect of both food availability and elevated T on immune function and reproductive behavior in sagebrush lizards, Sceloporus graciosus, to assess how T and energy availability affect these trade-offs. We experimentally manipulated diet (via supplemental feedings) and T (via dermal patches) in males from a natural population. We determined innate immune response by calculating the bacterial killing capability of collected plasma exposed to E. coli ex vivo. We measured reproductive behavior by counting the number of courtship displays produced in a 20-min sampling period. We observed an interactive effect of food availability and T-patch on immune function, with food supplementation increasing immunity in T-patch lizards. Additionally, T increased courtship displays in control food lizards. Lizards with supplemental food had higher circulating T than controls. Collectively, this study shows that the energetic state of the animal plays a critical role in modulating the interactions among T, behavior and immunity in sagebrush lizards and likely other species.
Context-dependent; Energy allocation; Innate immunity; Life history; Resources; Sceloporus; Trade-offs
The primary goal of virtually all organisms is to produce genetic offspring, thereby passing on their genes to future generations. Offspring production, however, is limited by available resources within an environment. Moreover, distributing sufficient energy among competing physiological systems is challenging and can result in trade-offs between self-maintenance and offspring investment when resources are limited. In the current study, we tested the hypothesis that the adipose hormone leptin is involved in mediating energetic trade-offs between competing physiological systems. Specifically, we tested the effects of elevated maternal leptin on investment into offspring production versus self maintenance (immune function), in the Siberian hamster (Phodopus sungorus). The current study provides the first evidence that leptin serves as a signal to mothers of available energy resulting in epigenetic effects. Therefore, elevated leptin allows females to retain more embryos to parturition, and rear more offspring to weaning via reduced maternal infanticide. Innate immune response was suppressed seemingly as a result of these enlarged litters, suggesting that the observed fitness increase is not without costs to the mother. Collectively, these findings suggest that leptin plays a critical role in allowing mothers to determine how much energy to invest in the production and care of young versus self-maintenance.
energy; immunity; reproduction; trade-offs
The developmental environment can have lasting effects on posthatching phenotype in oviparous animals. Innate immune response is one important component of fitness in vertebrates because it provides a generalized defense against infection. In addition, because male vertebrates are at a higher risk of infection than females, males may benefit more from increased innate immunity than females. We determined the effects of incubation temperature on the innate immune response of hatchling map turtles (Graptemys) by incubating eggs at a range of male and female producing-temperatures and assessing plasma complement activity in the resulting hatchlings. We found a significant effect of incubation environment on circulating complement in hatchling Graptemys ouachitensis, with male-producing temperatures yielding the highest innate immune response. Most important, these results demonstrate that immune response is affected by developmental environment in a species with environmental sex determination, potentially resulting in sex differences in the ability to fend off pathogens.
To avoid breeding during unsuitable environmental or physiological circumstances, the reproductive axis adjusts its output in response to fluctuating internal and external conditions. The ability of the reproductive system to alter its activity appropriately in response to these cues has been well established. However, the means by which reproductively relevant cues are interpreted, integrated, and relayed to the reproductive axis remain less well specified. The neuropeptide kisspeptin has been shown to be a potent positive stimulator of the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis, suggesting a possible neural locus for the interpretation/integration of these cues. Because a failure to inhibit reproduction during winter would be maladaptive for short-lived female rodents, female Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) housed in long and short days hamsters were examined. In long, ‘summer’ photoperiods, kisspeptin is highly expressed in the anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPV), with low expression in the arcuate nucleus (Arc). A striking reversal in this pattern is observed in animals held in short, ‘winter’ photoperiods, with negligible kisspeptin expression in the AVPV and marked staining in the Arc. Although all studies to date suggest that both populations act to stimulate the reproductive axis, these contrasting expression patterns of AVPV and Arc kisspeptin suggest disparate roles for these two cell populations. Additionally, we found that the stimulatory actions of exogenous kisspeptin are blocked by acyline, a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) receptor antagonist, suggesting an action of kisspeptin on the GnRH system rather than pituitary gonadotropes. Finally, females held in short day lengths exhibit a reduced response to exogenous kisspeptin treatment relative to long-day animals. Together, these findings indicate a role for kisspeptin in the AVPV and Arc as an upstream integration center for reproductively-relevant stimuli and point to a dual mechanism of reproductive inhibition in which kisspeptin expression is reduced concomitant with reduced sensitivity of the HPG axis to this peptide.
metastin; GPR54; photoperiod; Siberian hamster; seasonal; reproduction
In order to reproduce successfully, animals must integrate multiple environmental cues to synchronize breeding with favorable conditions. In temperate seasonally breeding rodents, photoperiod acts as the primary seasonal cue. Long days are associated with reproductive development and maturation of the gonads whereas short days induce gonadal regression. The neuropeptide kisspeptin has potent stimulatory effects on reproductive development. Kisspeptin potently stimulates GnRH release and kisspeptin expression co-varies with photoperiod in seasonally breeding animals. Here we tested the hypothesis that reproductive involution in response to inhibitory day lenghts results from reduced kisspeptin stimulation of the reproductive axis in seasonally breeding Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). If true, gonadal regrowth should be hastened by kisspeptin treatment in regressed hamsters and prevented in hamsters by treatment prior to and during regression. In Experiment 1 and Experiment 2 we tested the ability of kisspeptin to reverse gonadal regression. In Experiment 1, reproductively regressed hamsters received chronic kisspeptin via osmotic mini-pumps for 4 weeks. In Experiment 2, daily injections of kisspeptin were administered to regressed hamsters for 6 weeks. In Experiment 3, the ability of kisspeptin to block gonadal regression was tested; hamsters transferred to short days received daily injections of kisspeptin for 6 weeks. In all three studies, short day animals receiving exogenous kisspeptin did not differ from short-day controls. Collectively, these results provide evidence that mechanisms in addition to those that converge on the kisspeptin system are likely critical for seasonal changes in the reproductive axis.
metastin; seasonal reproduction; gonadal recrudescence; GPR54; puberty
Most temperate-zone species use photoperiod to coordinate breeding and ensure that offspring are born during favourable conditions. Although photoperiodic influences on the reproductive axis have been well characterized, the precise mechanisms by which photoperiodic information and other seasonal cues are integrated to regulate reproductive function remain less well specified. Two recently discovered neuropeptides, kisspeptin and gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone, have pronounced opposing influences on reproductive function. This paper will review recent evidence for a role of these peptides in seasonal reproduction and propose a theoretical framework by which these novel regulatory peptides may serve to regulate seasonal breeding. Understanding the mechanisms regulating appropriate changes in reproductive status will serve to advance a wide range of life science disciplines.
kisspeptin; gonadotropin-inhibitory hormone; seasonal reproduction; RFamide; RFamide-related peptide; metastin
Mounting an immune response requires a relatively substantial investment of energy and marked reductions in energy availability can suppress immune function and presumably increase disease susceptibility. We have previously demonstrated that a moderate reduction in energy stores via partial surgical lipectomy (LIPx) impairs humoural immunity of Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). Here we tested the hypothesis that LIPx-induced decreases in immunity are mediated by changes in the adipose tissue hormone leptin. Hamsters received bilateral surgical removal of inguinal white adipose tissue (IWATx) or sham surgeries (Sham). Half the animals in each group received osmotic minipumps containing murine leptin (0.5 μl h−1 for 10 days) whereas the remaining animals received minipumps containing vehicle alone; all animals were subsequently challenged with the novel antigen keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH). In general, serum leptin and anti-KLH antibodies were significantly correlated with one another with higher levels generally indicating enhanced immunity. In addition, IWATx hamsters had significantly lower serum anti-KLH IgG compared with sham animals. Exogenous leptin, however, attenuated LIPx-induced immune suppression but did not affect humoural immunity in sham animals. These results suggest that reductions in energy availability lead to impairments in humoural immunity and that leptin can serve as a neuroendocrine signal between body fat and immunity regulating humoural immune responses.
body fat; adipose tissue; seasonal; immune; energetics
Mounting an immune response requires substantial energy, and it is well known that marked reductions in energy availability (e.g. starvation) can suppress immune function, thus increasing disease susceptibility and compromising survival. We tested the hypothesis that moderate reductions in energy availability impair humoral immunity. Specifically, we examined the effects of partial lipectomy (LIPx) on humoral immunity in two seasonally breeding rodent species, prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) and Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus). Animals received bilateral surgical removal of epididymal white adipose tissue (EWATx), inguinal white adipose tissue (IWATx) or sham surgeries and were injected with the antigen keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH) either four or 12 weeks after surgery. In prairie voles, serum anti-KLH immunoglobulin G (IgG) did not differ significantly at four weeks. At 12 weeks, serum IgG was significantly reduced in IWATx, but not EWATx animals, compared with sham-operated animals. In Siberian hamsters, both IWATx and EWATx animals reduced serum IgG at four weeks. At 12 weeks, EWATx hamsters displayed a significant compensatory increase in IWAT pad mass compared with sham-operated hamsters, and serum IgG no longer differed from sham-operated animals. There was no significant increase in EWAT in IWATx hamsters compared with sham animals and IgG remained significantly reduced in IWATx hamsters. These results suggest that reductions in energy availability can impair humoral immunity.