Post-mating disparity between potential and realized immune response in Drosophila melanogaster

Proc Biol Sci. 2007 May 7;274(1614):1211-7. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2006.0394.


Reproductive costs are an essential component of evolutionary theory. For instance, an increase in reproduction is generally coupled with a decrease in immunocompetence shortly after mating. However, recent work in Drosophila melanogaster suggests that the potential to mount an immune response, as measured by the levels of immune gene expression, increases after mating. These data are in contrast to previous studies, which suggest that mating can reduce a fly's ability to survive an actual bacterial challenge (realized immunity). This pattern may be driven by some aspect of mating, independent of resource limitation, which reduces immune function by inhibiting the effective deployment of immune gene products. Though several studies have examined both the potential and the realized immunity after mating, none have examined these immune measures simultaneously. Here, we examined the link between the potential and the realized immunity in a sterile mutant of D. melanogaster. Shortly after mating, we found that female immune gene expression was high, but survival against infection was low. Surprisingly, this pattern was reversed within 24 h. Thus, estimates of immunity based on gene expression do not appear to reflect an actual ability to defend against pathogens in the hours following copulation. We discuss the possible mechanisms that may account for this pattern.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / immunology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / microbiology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / immunology*
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa / immunology
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Survival Analysis
  • Time Factors