Original Paper

Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 473-483

First online:

Innate versus adaptive immunity in sticklebacks: evidence for trade-offs from a selection experiment

  • K. Mathias WegnerAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institute of LimnologyInstitute of Integrative Biology, Experimental Ecology, ETH Zürich Universitätstrasse 16 CHN H72 Email author 
  • , Martin KalbeAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institute of Limnology
  • , Thorsten B. H. ReuschAffiliated withMax-Planck-Institute of LimnologyInstitute for Evolution and Biodiversity, University of Münster

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In vertebrates, the immune system consists of two arms of different characteristics: the innate and the acquired immune response. Parasites that are only shortly exposed to the immune system are most efficiently attacked by fast, constitutive innate immune mechanisms. Here, we experimentally selected within four fish families for high innate resistance versus susceptibility of three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) against infection with the eye-fluke (Diplostomum pseudospathacaeum), a parasite whose metacercariae are protected from the immune system within the eye lens. We predicted that in families with high susceptibility, the adaptive immune system would be upregulated when challenged with infection. In accordance, we found that MHC class IIB expression is increased by approximately 50% in those lines selected for higher parasite load (i.e. low innate response). This suggests extensive genetic correlations between innate and adaptive immune system and/or crosstalk between both lines of defense. An efficient, specific innate immune response might reduce overall activation of the immune system and potentially alleviate associated effects of immunopathology.


Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) Ecological immunity Innate resistance Adaptive immunity Gene expression Three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) Parasites Artificial selection