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What are carotenoids signaling? Immunostimulatory effects of dietary vitamin E, but not of carotenoids, in Iberian green lizards

Abstract

In spite that carotenoid-based sexual ornaments are one of the most popular research topics in sexual selection of animals, the antioxidant and immunostimulatory role of carotenoids, presumably signaled by these colorful ornaments, is still controversial. It has been suggested that the function of carotenoids might not be as an antioxidant per se, but that colorful carotenoids may indirectly reflect the levels of nonpigmentary antioxidants, such as melatonin or vitamin E. We experimentally fed male Iberian green lizards (Lacerta schreiberi) additional carotenoids or vitamin E alone, or a combination of carotenoids and vitamin E dissolved in soybean oil, whereas a control group only received soybean oil. We examined the effects of the dietary supplementations on phytohaemagglutinin (PHA)-induced skin-swelling immune response and body condition. Lizards that were supplemented with vitamin E alone or a combination of vitamin E and carotenoids had greater immune responses than control lizards, but animals supplemented with carotenoids alone had lower immune responses than lizards supplemented with vitamin E and did not differ from control lizards. These results support the hypothesis that carotenoids in green lizards are not effective as immunostimulants, but that they may be visually signaling the immunostimulatory effects of non-pigmentary vitamin E. In contrast, lizards supplemented with carotenoids alone have higher body condition gains than lizards in the other experimental groups, suggesting that carotenoids may be still important to improve condition.

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Acknowledgments

We thank two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and “El Ventorrillo” MNCN Field Station for use of their facilities. Financial support was provided by the project MICIIN-CGL2011-24150/BOS and a JAE-pre-grant to RK.

Ethical standards

The experiments enforced all the present Spanish laws and were performed under license (permit number: 10/142790.9/11) from the Environmental Organisms of Madrid Community where they were carried out.

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Correspondence to José Martín.

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Communicated by: Sven Thatje

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Kopena, R., López, P. & Martín, J. What are carotenoids signaling? Immunostimulatory effects of dietary vitamin E, but not of carotenoids, in Iberian green lizards. Naturwissenschaften 101, 1107–1114 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00114-014-1250-7

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Keywords

  • Body condition
  • Carotenoids
  • Immunostimulatory effects
  • Lacerta schreiberi
  • Lizard
  • Sexual ornaments
  • Tocopherol