Prenatal androgen exposure modulates cellular and humoral immune function of black-headed gull chicks
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: series B: biological sciences. - London, 1934 - 1990
, p. 1971-1977
University of Antwerp
Avian eggs contain considerable amounts of maternal yolk androgens, which have been shown to beneficially influence the physiology and behaviour of the chick. As androgens may suppress immune functions, they may also entail costs for the chick. This is particularly relevant for colonial species, such as the black-headed gull (Larus ridibundus), in which the aggregation of large numbers of birds during the breeding season enhances the risk of infectious diseases for the hatching chick. To test the effect of maternal yolk androgens on the chicks immune function, we experimentally manipulated, in a field study, yolk androgen levels within the physiological range by in ovo injection of either androgens (testosterone and androstenedione) or sesame oil (control) into freshly laid eggs. We determined cell-mediated immunity (CMI) and humoral immunity of the chicks at the beginning of the nestling period to evaluate early modulatory effects of yolk androgens on immune function. Embryonic exposure to elevated levels of androgens negatively affected both CMI and humoral immunity in nestling gull chicks. Consequently, maternal yolk androgens not only entail benefits of enhanced competitiveness and growth as previously shown, but also costs in terms of immunosuppression. The outcome of embryonic yolk androgen exposure thus likely depends on the post-hatching circumstances for the developing offspring such as parasite exposure and degree of sibling competition.