Stress-induced effects on innate immune activity in wild birds have been difficult to predict. These difficulties may arise from the frequent assumptions that (1) the stress response influences different components of the immune response similarly, (2) stress-induced effects do not change over the course of the stress response and (3) glucocorticoids are the primary regulators of stress-induced changes of immune activity. We tested the first two assumptions by measuring three components of innate immunity at two times during the stress response in captive adult male house sparrows, Passer domesticus. Acute stress resulting from handling and restraint suppressed plasma lytic and microbicidal activity within 10 min and reduced plasma agglutination ability within 120 min. We tested the third assumption by measuring stress-induced effects in sparrows that were pharmacologically adrenalectomized by mitotane administration. Confirming the effectiveness of this treatment, mitotane-treated birds had lower pre-stress plasma CORT than control birds and showed no increase in plasma CORT during acute stress. The innate immune activity of mitotane-treated birds did not decrease during the stress response, but the pre-stress immune activity of these birds did not differ from that of vehicle-treated birds. These results suggest that elevated plasma CORT during stress is primarily responsible for mediating stress-induced suppression of innate immune activity.
The authors declare no competing or financial interests.
S.G. and P.D. designed the experiments and drafted the manuscript. S.G. administered all of the treatments and collected all blood samples. S.G. and C.S. performed the corticosterone and immune assays. S.G. performed all the statistical analyses.
This project was funded by grants awarded by the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University to S.G.
- Received June 6, 2016.
- Accepted October 28, 2016.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd