, Volume 178, Issue 5, pp 623-628
Date: 15 Feb 2008

Sex-specific effects of glucose deprivation on cell-mediated immunity and reproduction in Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus)

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Abstract

In most species, sexes differ in levels of parasitism. These differences have traditionally been believed to be static, but a capacity for adjusting anti-parasite investments would allow sexes to allocate resources adaptively contingent on environmental conditions. During stressful periods, such as a food shortage, allocation decisions would be mandated in males and females, but the biasing of resources may differ depending on the value of various physiological alternatives to the fitness of each sex. To determine whether sexes sacrifice immune or reproductive capacity when stressed, male and female Siberian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) were pharmacologically deprived of glucose. Glucose deprivation was expected to compromise immune activity (delayed-type hypersensitivity) more than reproductive capacity in males because male fitness is limited by reproductive opportunities. The opposite was predicted for females because of the greater value of surviving to breed in favorable conditions. Contrary to expectations, glucoprivation compromised immune activity in female, but not male, hamsters. Conversely, glucoprivation reduced male, but not female, reproductive organ masses. These results may reflect the adjustments made by wild hamsters during food shortages, or they may be influenced by the study design; neither sex was permitted to incur other behavioral and physiological costs, such as lactation and parental care. Regardless, our results indicate that sex differences in parasitism are likely to be plastic in many circumstances, but further work in free-living animals is critical to ascertain whether results of the present study are naturally representative.

Communicated by G. Heldmaier.