Immune activation suppresses plasma testosterone level: a meta-analysis

Boonekamp, J. J. , Ros, A. H.F. and Verhulst, S. (2008) Immune activation suppresses plasma testosterone level: a meta-analysis. Biology Letters, 4(6), pp. 741-744. (doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2008.0347) (PMID:18700197) (PMCID:PMC2614147)

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Abstract

Females often select mates on the basis of sexual signals, which can be reliable indicators of male quality when the costliness of these signals prevents cheating. The immunocompetence handicap hypothesis (ICHH) provides a mechanistic explanation of these costs, by proposing a trade-off between immune function and sexual displays. This trade-off arises because testosterone enhances sexual signals, but suppresses immune function. Many studies have investigated the ICHH by administrating testosterone, and a recent meta-analysis found little evidence that testosterone suppressed immune function. However, another component of the ICHH, which has received less empirical interest, suggests that there may also be an interaction in the other direction, with immune activation suppressing testosterone levels. We present a meta-analysis to test for this effect. Overall, there was a strong suppressive effect of experimental immune activation on testosterone levels (r=−0.52), regardless of whether live pathogens or non-pathogenic antigens were used to challenge the immune system. The latter is important because it shows that immune activation per se suppresses testosterone levels. Thus, a trade-off between immunocompetence and sexual displays may primarily be generated by the effect of immune activation on testosterone, rather than the opposite effect that has received most attention.

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Boonekamp, Dr Jelle
Authors: Boonekamp, J. J., Ros, A. H.F., and Verhulst, S.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Journal Name:Biology Letters
Publisher:The Royal Society
ISSN:1744-9561
ISSN (Online):1744-957X
Published Online:12 August 2008

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