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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. © The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. All rights reserved. For permissions please email: journals.permissions@oup.com.


The immune response is thought to be costly and deters from growth and reproduction, but the magnitude and sources of these costs are unknown. Thus, we quantified the changes in mass of leukocytes (CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, Bu1+ IgM+ and Bu1+ IgG+ B cells, monocytes/macrophages, heterophils and thrombocytes) and protective plasma proteins in systemic (non-mucosal) components of adult chickens injected intravenously with dead Escherichia coli. During the first day after E. coli injection most types of blood leukocytes decreased and α-1-acid glycoprotein increased. Specific IgM, specific IgY, total IgM, Bu1+ lymphocytes in the spleen and bone marrow and thymic CD8+ lymphocytes increased at 5d post-injection. Quantitatively, the increases in the weight of cells and antibodies due to E. coli were dwarfed by the increase in the weight of the liver and acute phase proteins. Thus the acute phase response was markedly more costly than the subsequent adaptive response. The weight of the cells and proteins of the systemic immune system prior to challenge was 0.14% of body weight. Following E. coli injection, the additional weight of the immune components and the hypertrophy of the liver resulted in a 3.6-fold increase in weight which is equivalent to 18.5% of a large egg. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


The immune response is thought to be costly and deters from growth and reproduction, but the magnitude and sources of these costs are unknown. Thus, we quantified the changes in mass of leukocytes (CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells, Bu1(+) IgM(+) and Bu1(+) IgG(+) B cells, monocytes/macrophages, heterophils and thrombocytes) and protective plasma proteins in systemic (non-mucosal) components of adult chickens injected intravenously with dead Escherichia coli. During the first day after E. coli injection most types of blood leukocytes decreased and -1-acid glycoprotein increased. Specific IgM, specific IgY, total IgM, Bu1(+) lymphocytes in the spleen and bone marrow and thymic CD8(+) lymphocytes increased at 5d post-injection. Quantitatively, the increases in the weight of cells and antibodies due to E. coli were dwarfed by the increase in the weight of the liver and acute phase proteins. Thus the acute phase response was markedly more costly than the subsequent adaptive response. The weight of the cells and proteins of the systemic immune system prior to challenge was 0.14% of body weight. Following E. coli injection, the additional weight of the immune components and the hypertrophy of the liver resulted in a 3.6-fold increase in weight which is equivalent to 18.5% of a large egg.


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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