Immune challenge retards seasonal reproductive regression in rodents: evidence for terminal investment

Biol Lett. 2006 Sep 22;2(3):393-6. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0475.


Animals must balance investments in different physiological activities to allow them to maximize fitness in the environments they inhabit. These adjustments among reproduction, growth and survival are mandated because of the competing high costs of each process. Seasonally breeding rodents generally bias their investments towards reproduction when environmental conditions are benign, but shift these investments towards processes that promote survival, including immune activity, when environmental conditions deteriorate. Because survival probability of non-tropical small mammals is generally low in winter, under certain circumstances, these animals may not allocate resources to survival mechanisms in an effort to produce as many offspring as possible in the face of increased probability of death. Such 'terminal investments' have been described in passerines, but there are few examples of such phenomena in small mammals. Here, we show that male Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) challenged with lipopolysaccharide (a component of gram-negative bacteria that activates the immune system) induced a small, but significant, retardation of seasonal regression of the reproductive system relative to saline-injected hamsters. This delayed reproductive regression likely reflects a strategy to maintain reproductive function when survival prospects are compromised by infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / immunology
  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Cricetinae
  • Hormones / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lipopolysaccharides / metabolism
  • Male
  • Phodopus
  • Photoperiod
  • Reproduction*
  • Seasons
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal
  • Testis / pathology
  • Testosterone / blood


  • Hormones
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Testosterone