Prolonged elevations of glucocorticoids due to long-duration (chronic) stress can suppress immune function. It is unclear, however, how natural stressors that result in repeated short-duration (acute) stress, such as frequent agonistic social encounters or predator attacks, fit into our current understanding of the immune consequences of stress. Since these types of stressors may activate the immune system due to increased risk of injury, immune suppression may be reduced at sites where individuals are repeatedly exposed to potentially damaging stressors. We tested whether repeated acute elevation of corticosterone (CORT, a glucocorticoid) suppresses immune function in eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus), and whether this effect varies between lizards from high-stress (high baseline CORT, invaded by predatory fire ants) and low-stress (low baseline CORT, uninvaded) sites. Lizards treated daily with exogenous CORT showed higher hemagglutination of novel proteins by their plasma (a test of constitutive humoral immunity) than control lizards, a pattern that was consistent across sites. There was no significant effect of CORT treatment on bacterial killing ability of plasma. These results suggest that repeated elevations of CORT, which are common in nature, produce immune effects more typical of those expected at the acute end of the acute-chronic spectrum and provide no evidence of modulated consequences of elevated CORT in animals from high-stress sites.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Animal Science and Zoology