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Food availability and maternal immunization affect transfer and persistence of maternal antibodies in nestling pigeons.

Posted by on in 2013
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Ismail A1Jacquin L2Haussy C1Legoupi J1Perret S3Gasparini J1. 2013. PLoS One. 8(11):e79942. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0079942. eCollection 2013.
  • 1Laboratoire Ecologie and Evolution UMR 7625, Université Pierre et Marie Curie CNRS ENS, Paris, France.
  • 2Laboratoire Ecologie and Evolution UMR 7625, Université Pierre et Marie Curie CNRS ENS, Paris, France ; Department of Biology and Redpath Museum, McGill University, Montréal, Québec, Canada.
  • 3Centre d'Ecologie Expérimentale et Prédictive CEREEP-Ecotron Ile-De-France CNRS ENS, UMS 3194, Ecole Normale Supérieure, St-Pierre-lès-Nemours, France.


The ability of mothers to transfer antibodies (Abs) to their young and the temporal persistence of maternal Abs in offspring constitute important life-history traits that can impact the evolution of host-parasite interactions. Here, we examined the effects of food availability and parental immunization on the transfer and persistence of maternal antibodies in nestling pigeons (Columba livia). This species can transmit maternal Abs to offspring before hatching through the egg yolk and potentially after hatching through crop milk. However, the role of this postnatal substance in immunity remains elusive. We used a full cross-fostering design to disentangle the effects of food limitation and parental immunization both before and after hatching on the levels and persistence of maternal Abs in chicks. Parents were immunized via injection with keyhole limpet hemocyanin antigens. Using an immunoassay that specifically detected the IgY antibodies that are known to be transmitted via the yolk, we found that the levels of anti-KLH Abs in newly hatched chicks were positively correlated with the levels of anti-KLH Abs in the blood of their biological mothers. However, this correlation was not present between chicks and their foster parents, suggesting limited IgY transfer via crop milk to the chick's bloodstream. Interestingly, biological mothers subjected to food limitation during egg laying transferred significantly fewer specific maternal Abs, which suggests that the transfer of antibodies might be costly for them. In addition, the persistence of maternal Abs in a chick's bloodstream was not affected by food limitation or the foster parents' anti-KLH Ab levels; it was only affected by the initial level of maternal anti-KLH Abs that were present in newly hatched chicks. These results suggest that the maternal transfer of Abs could be costly but that their persistence in an offspring's bloodstream may not necessarily be affected by environmental conditions.

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