The nutritional demands of the immune system may result in tradeoffs with competing processes such as growth and reproduction. The magnitude of the nutritional costs of immunity is largely unknown. Thus, we examine the lysine content of the systemic components of the immune system in adult male chickens (Gallus gallus domesticus) in a healthy condition (maintenance) and following a robust Escherichia coli-specific immune response. Lysine was used as a metric, because it is found both in leukocytes and in protective proteins. The dynamics of subsets of leukocytes were monitored in primary and secondary immune tissues (thymus, bone marrow, and spleen) that would be expected to be involved in the response following iv injection of E. coli. The systemic immune system at maintenance has the same lysine content as 332 average-sized feathers, 16% of an egg, or 5.4% of a pectoralis muscle from an adult chicken. During the acute-phase response to E. coli, the additional lysine needed would equal 355 feathers, 17% of an egg, or 5.5% of a pectoralis muscle. The acute-phase proteins accounted for the greatest proportion of lysine in the immune system at maintenance and the proportion increased substantially during an acute-phase response. Hypertrophy of the liver required more lysine than all of the leukocytes and protective proteins that were produced during the acute-phase response. Size of the liver and levels of protein during the acute phase returned to normal during the time when the adaptive response began to utilize significant quantities of lysine. The catabolism would release a surfeit of lysine to provision the anabolic processes of the adaptive response, thus making proliferation of lymphocytes and production of immunoglobulins very cheap.
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