Social interactions unmask sex differences in humoral immunity in voles

  • Klein S
  • Nelson R
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Sex differences in immune function are well established among laboratory rodents, with males typically having lower immunity than females. This sex difference may reflect the suppressive effects of testosterone on immune function. Because polygynous males generally have higher circulating testosterone concentrations than monogamous males, sex differences in immune function are hypothesized to be more pronounced among polygynous as compared to monogamous species. Sex differences in immune function have not been consistently observed among individually housed Microtus in the laboratory; thus, social interactions are hypothesized to be necessary for the expression of sex differences in immune function. We assessed the effect of differential housing conditions on humoral immunity and steroid hormone concentrations in polygynous meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus, and monogamous prairie voles, M. ochrogaster. We examined humoral immunity by immunizing voles with keyhole limpet haemocyanin (KLH) and measuring antibody production 5, 10, 15 and 30 days postimmunization. Overall, meadow voles mounted higher anti-KLH immunoglobulin (Ig)M and IgG responses than prairie voles, regardless of the housing condition. Sex differences in antibody production were only observed among meadow voles housed in pairs, in which females had higher anti-KLH IgM and IgG responses than males. Sex differences in antibody production were not observed among prairie voles or meadow voles housed individually. Sex and species differences in circulating oestradiol, testosterone, and corticosterone concentrations were not related to differences in humoral immunity. These data suggest that sex differences in immune function are more pronounced among polygynous species than monogamous species, but may be context dependent.

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  • Sabra L. Klein

  • Randy J. Nelson

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