Long-term maternal effect on offspring immune response in song sparrows Melospiza melodia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Knowledge of the causes of variation in host immunity to parasitic infection and the time-scales over which variation persists, is integral to predicting the evolutionary and epidemiological consequences of host-parasite interactions. It is clear that offspring immunity can be influenced by parental immune experience, for example, reflecting transfer of antibodies from mothers to young offspring. However, it is less clear whether such parental effects persist or have functional consequences over longer time-scales, linking a parent's previous immune experience to future immune responsiveness in fully grown offspring. We used free-living song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) to quantify long-term effects of parental immune experience on offspring immune response. We experimentally vaccinated parents with a novel antigen and tested whether parental vaccination influenced the humoral antibody response mounted by fully grown offspring hatched the following year. Parental vaccination did not influence offspring baseline antibody titres. However, offspring of vaccinated mothers mounted substantially stronger antibody responses than offspring of unvaccinated mothers. Antibody responses did not differ between offspring of vaccinated and unvaccinated fathers. These data demonstrate substantial long-term effects of maternal immune experience on the humoral immune response of fully grown offspring in free-living birds.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences


  • selection, immunocompetence, indirect environmental effect, tetanus vaccine, parasite-mediated
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-576
JournalBiology letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Publication categoryResearch