The cost of a specific immune response in young guinea pigs.
Pilorz V., Jäckel M., Knudsen K., Trillmich F.
The specific immune system is a protective mechanism that detects infection and fights it by production of antibodies. Newborns are especially susceptible to infections because their immune system is not yet as fully developed as that of adults. This has been well established in altricial mammals. Fighting infection is associated with costs (metabolic rate, protein synthesis) potentially affecting other developmental processes. We investigated the specific immune response in a precocial mammal, by testing the response of 3 and 7 day old young guinea pigs (Cavia aperea f. porcellus) against a non-pathogenic antigen (KLH) and determined the effect of the immune response on growth and metabolic rate. Challenged young produced a substantial specific immune response (IgG). The efficiency of the immune response was almost identical in 3 and 7 day old young, but lower than in adult females. Antibody titres achieved by actively immunised young pups were as high as titres transferred transplacentally by mothers immunised on day 40 and 47 of pregnancy. In comparison to a control group, the immune response did not influence growth and metabolic rate measured on day 4 after each immune challenge and was not reflected by changes in hematocrit value. We discuss whether the weaker immune response of pups is caused by reduced allocation of limited resources in growing young or by the immature immune system of young animals.