Nutrient availability, assimilation, and allocation can have important and lasting effects on the immune system development of growing animals. Though carotenoid pigments have immunostimulatory properties in many animals, relatively little is known regarding how they influence the immune system during development. Moreover, studies linking carotenoids to health at any life stage have largely been restricted to birds and mammals. We investigated the effects of carotenoid supplementation on multiple aspects of immunity in juvenile veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus). We supplemented half of the chameleons with lutein (a xanthophyll carotenoid) for 14 weeks during development and serially measured multiple aspects of immune function, including: agglutination and lysis performance of plasma, wound healing, and plasma nitric oxide concentrations before and after wounding.
Though lutein supplementation effectively elevated circulating carotenoid concentrations throughout the developmental period, we found no evidence that carotenoid repletion enhanced immune function at any point. However, agglutination and lysis scores increased, while baseline nitric oxide levels decreased, as chameleons aged.
Taken together, our results indicate that body mass and age, but not carotenoid access, may play an important role in immune performance of growing chameleons. Hence, studying well-understood physiological processes in novel taxa can provide new perspectives on alternative physiological processes and nutrient function.