Maternal transfer of antibodies in vertebrates: trans-generational effects on offspring immunity.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Maternal effects by which females provide their offspring with non-genetic factors such as hormones, nutrients and antibodies can have an important impact on offspring fitness. In vertebrates, maternal antibodies (matAb) are transferred from the mother, via the placenta, egg yolk or milk during lactation to offspring until they are 2 weeks (birds), 4-10 weeks (rodents) and 9 months (humans) old, respectively. matAb transfer can have direct effects on offspring growth rate in birds and rodents, probably by passively protecting the newborn from common pathogens before their endogenous immune system has matured. Indirect long-term effects of matAb transfer on the offspring's own immunity can be synergistic, if matAb act as antigen templates of the accumulated immunological experience of the mother and educate the newborn's immune system. However, it may also be suppressive if matAb reduce antigen presentation to the newborn resulting in antigen-specific blocking of offspring endogenous immunity. Our aim is to review the mechanisms and direct effects of matAb transfer in vertebrates with an emphasis on birds, outline a framework for research on the long-term effects of matAb on the endogenous immune system of the mature offspring and encourage ecological and evolutionary studies of matAb transfer in non-domesticated animals.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences


  • maternal effects, offspring growth rate, epitope blocking, trans-generational effects, immune system priming, maternal antibody transfer
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-60
JournalRoyal Society of London. Philosophical Transactions B. Biological Sciences
Issue number1513
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Publication categoryResearch