Testosterone-mediated immune functions and male life histories

Am J Hum Biol. 2005 Sep-Oct;17(5):527-58. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.20419.


Recent advances in human life history theory have provided new insights into the potential selection pressures that were instrumental in the evolution of human and non-human primate males. However, gaps remain in our understanding of how primate males regulate and allocate energetic resources between survivorship and reproductive effort. Defense against parasitic infection is an important force shaping life history evolution. Proper performance of immunological responses against infection is influenced by many physiological systems, including metabolic, reproductive, and stress hormones. Because androgens influence and modulate immune, reproductive, and somatic metabolic functions, assessing changes in testosterone and immune factors during infection may yield insight into male physiological ecology. In this review, we examine male life history trade-offs between immune and reproductive endocrine functions as well as provide a comprehensive review of testosterone-immunocompetence relationships. Emphasis is placed on testosterone because it is a primary hormone shown to be crucial to energy-allocation processes in vertebrates. Non-primate species have been used more extensively in this research than humans or non-human primates, and therefore this extensive literature is organized and reviewed in order to better understand potential parallel relationships in primates, especially humans. Furthermore, we attempt to reconcile the many inconsistent results obtained from field studies on immune-endocrine interactions as well as detail various methodologies that may be used to forward this research in evolutionary anthropology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecology
  • Humans
  • Immunocompetence*
  • Immunosuppression Therapy
  • Male
  • Primates / immunology*
  • Primates / physiology
  • Reproduction*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Testosterone / immunology*


  • Testosterone