Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), The Polar Environmental Centre, NO-9296, Tromsø, Norway.
The prolonged exposure of birds to environmental stressors known to affect energy status and glucocorticoid secretion may have several physiological consequences including a decrease in immunocompetence, further compromising the survival of individuals. However, the relationships between these parameters remain poorly understood. To this end, changes in body energy content, plasma corticosterone, adaptive (total plasma immunoglobulin Y; IgY) and innate (natural antibodies; NAbs) immune systems were assessed in female mallards (Anas plathyrhynchos) throughout prolonged fasts of different intensities and subsequent re-feeding. Plasma IgY and NAb scores were decreased by 36% and 50%, respectively, during phase II of fasting (protein-sparing phase) and by up to 40% and 80%, respectively, during phase III (protein-wasting phase), indicating a selective regulation of immune function. These results are consistent with the hypothesis of a trade-off between immune function and other energy-demanding activities. However, despite full repletion of fuel reserves and NAbs, only 76% of initial IgY levels were recovered, further supporting a trade-off between innate and adaptive branches of immunity. Although fasting induced significant increases in corticosterone levels to up to 6 times higher than baseline levels during phase III, baseline levels were recovered within 1 day of re-feeding. Our data do not support the hypothesis of a direct regulation of immunocompetence by corticosterone, at least during periods of energy repletion. Finally, the mismatch between the kinetics of body fuels and the two arms of the immune system during fasting and re-feeding suggests that variations in immune system components do not strictly covary with body mass under fluctuating food conditions.
PMID: 21037060 [PubMed - in process]