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Transgenerational priming of immunity: maternal exposure to a bacterial antigen enhances offspring humoral immunity

  • Jennifer Grindstaff
  • Dennis Hasselquist
  • Jan-Åke Nilsson
  • Maria Sandell
  • Henrik Smith
  • Martin Stjernman
Publishing year: 2006
Language: English
Pages: 2551-2557
Publication/Series: Royal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Volume: 273
Issue: 1600
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Royal Society

Abstract english

Young vertebrates have limited capacity to synthesize antibodies and are dependent on the protection of maternally transmitted antibodies for humoral disease resistance early in life. However, mothers may enhance fitness by priming their offspring's immune systems to elevate disease resistance. Transgenerational induced defences have been documented in plants and invertebrates, but maternal priming of offspring immunity in vertebrates has been essentially neglected. To test the ability of mothers to stimulate the immune systems of offspring, we manipulated maternal and offspring antigen exposure in a wild population of birds, pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca). We show that immunization of the mother before egg laying apparently stimulates a transgenerational defence against pathogens by elevating endogenous offspring antibody production. If the disease environments encountered by mothers and offspring are similar, this transgenerational immune priming may allow young to better cope with the local pathogen fauna.


  • Biological Sciences


  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 1471-2954
Dennis Hasselquist
E-mail: dennis [dot] hasselquist [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se



+46 46 222 37 08



Research group


Doctoral students and postdocs

Research fellows


Jacob Roved

PhD Students, main supervisor

PhD Students, assistant supervisor


Interview about my research in the Swedish podcast "Forskarn & jag"