Dietary protein restriction impairs growth, immunity, and disease resistance in southern leopard frog tadpoles
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- Venesky, M.D., Wilcoxen, T.E., Rensel, M.A. et al. Oecologia (2012) 169: 23. doi:10.1007/s00442-011-2171-1
The immune system is a necessary, but potentially costly, defense against infectious diseases. When nutrition is limited, immune activity may consume a significant amount of an organism’s energy budget. Levels of dietary protein affect immune system function; high levels can enhance disease resistance. We exposed southern leopard frog [Lithobates sphenocephalus (=Rana sphenocephala)] tadpoles to high and low protein diets crossed with the presence or absence of the pathogenic amphibian chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis; Bd) and quantified: (1) tadpole resistance to Bd; (2) tadpole skin-swelling in response to phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) injection (a measure of the T cell-mediated response of the immune system); (3) bacterial killing ability (BKA) of tadpole blood (a measure of the complement-mediated cytotoxicity of the innate immune system); and (4) tadpole growth and development. Tadpoles raised on a low-protein diet were smaller and less developed than tadpoles on a high-protein diet. When controlled for developmental stage, tadpoles raised on a low-protein diet had reduced PHA and BKA responses relative to tadpoles on a high-protein diet, but these immune responses were independent of Bd exposure. High dietary protein significantly increased resistance to Bd. Our results support the general hypothesis that host condition can strongly affect disease resistance; in particular, fluctuations in dietary protein availability may change how diseases affect populations in the field.