Steroid Hormones and Immune Function: Experimental Studies in Wild and Captive Dark-Eyed Juncos (Junco hyemalis)

Casto, Nolan, Ketterson
2001 American Naturalist  
Monogamous and polygynous male songbirds generally differ in their breeding season profiles of circulating testosterone. Testosterone level spikes early in the breeding season of monogamists and then declines, but it remains high in polygynists. Male dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) are socially monogamous and exhibit the usual pattern, but experimental maintenance of high testosterone throughout the breeding season alters normal behavior and physiology and affects various components of annual
more » ... reproductive success but not overall annual success. Because stabilizing selection predicts that alteration of naturally existing phenotypes should reduce lifetime reproductive success, we asked whether prolonged testosterone exposure might impair immune function and perhaps thereby reduce life span. We assessed immune function in captive and wild male juncos that we treated with either testosterone-filled or empty Silastic implants. Results indicate that prolonged elevation of testosterone suppresses antibody production in captive males and cell-mediated immunity in wild males. Together these results suggest that testosterone-treated males may be more susceptible to disease or parasitic infection. As earlier studies have shown, levels of corticosterone as well as testosterone are higher in testosterone-treated males, so it is unclear whether the immune suppression we observed is due to testosterone's direct effects on immunity or testosterone's influence on glucocorticoid production. We discuss results in the context of recent hypotheses regarding life-history theory and potential endocrine-immune interactions.
doi:10.2307/3079182 pmid:18707250 fatcat:sumpacabvvhtfl6sej7omf6db4