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Do "infectious" prey select for high levels of natural antibodies in tropical pythons?

  • Thomas Madsen
  • Beata Ujvari
  • KS Nandakumar
  • Dennis Hasselquist
  • Rikard Holmdahl
Publishing year: 2007
Language: English
Pages: 271-279
Publication/Series: Evolutionary Ecology
Volume: 21
Issue: 2
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Springer
Additional info: The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: MEMEG (432112240), Medical Inflammation Research (013212019), Department of Biology (000016100)

Abstract english

Natural antibodies (NAbs) constitute an important component in vertebrate immune system, but, in spite of this, have often been dismissed as "non-specific background" signals. We observed a significant positive relationship between water python (Liasis fuscus) body length/age and levels of antibodies reactive with two administered antigens (tetanus and diphtheria). However, no humoral immune response to the antigens was observed. The lack of elevated immune response, and the age-associated increase in antibody titres, strongly suggest that the antibodies consisted of polyreactive NAbs, and that absence of an elevated immune response was caused by such high levels of NAbs that they were able to mask the epitopes of the antigens. In our study area pythons feed mainly on rodents that frequently, before being killed, are able to inflict numerous bites to the snakes. The bites most likely transmit pathogens such as bacteria. As NAbs have been shown to act as a first line defence against bacterial infections, the high levels of NAbs in the pythons may be an adaptation to reduce pathogenic effects of bacteria transmitted by the prey when the snakes are feeding. Thus, the results from present study suggest that NAbs may have an important immunological function by reducing deleterious effects of pathogens in wild populations.


  • Immunology in the medical area
  • snake
  • humoral immune response
  • natural antibodies
  • pathogen transmission


  • Immunology
  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 1573-8477
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"