Promiscuous fruit flies fight infection by boosting immunity before sex

Nov 04, 2013
New research into fruit flies has provided the first evidence of a new type of immunity - 'immune aniticipation' - which occurs when animals mount immune response before they are infected. (3D image of a female fruit fly).

(Phys.org) —Female fruit flies regulate their genes before having sex to help them fight off sexually transmitted infections (STIs), researchers from our Department of Biology & Biochemistry have revealed.

The finding, published recently in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first evidence of a new type of immunity – 'immune anticipation'. This occurs when animals mount immune responses before they are infected as a direct consequence of sensing a high risk of infection.

The study also shows that how an animal fights off an infection depends on how it picked it up. The authors tested the immunity of the fly under topical and sexual exposures to the same fungus, Metarhizium robertsii. They found that the well-characterized Toll pathway gene, Dif, provides specific immunity to high-dose topical , while the relatively unknown Turandot M gene provides specific protection against STIs.

Fruit flies are notorious for their promiscuity and, with STIs rife among the insects, they represented an excellent model for scientists to study. By analysing the genetic make-up and immunity of over 100,000 the scientists were able to understand how are switched on and off in order to prevent infections.

Lead researcher Dr Nick Priest, said: "It is exciting to learn that females boost their immunity in response to male courtship. In addition to opening up new avenues of research, this finding proves the benefits of sweet talk!"

The scientists at Bath now believe this could lead to new therapies for fighting off infections and it could also help explain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus. In these diseases, environmental triggers cause the body's immune system to become hyperactive and attack healthy tissues.

The research suggests that with a better understanding of the factors in the environment which trigger and suppress anticipated immune responses, health practitioners might be able either to stimulate natural immune responses to help patients ward off infections, or to suppress those responses which cause the immune system to malfunction.

The key next step in this research is to identify the genetic pathways which underlie immune anticipation. By combining studies of tissue-specific gene expression, male courtship song, low-dose fungal infections and immune gene knockdowns assays, the authors hope to identify the genetic links between brain, behaviour and immunity.

Explore further: Gene linked to deadly runaway fungal infection

More information: To download the paper, Immune anticipation of mating in Drosophila: Turandot M promotes immunity against sexually transmitted fungal infections, see rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or… 73/20132018.abstract

Related Stories

Gene linked to deadly runaway fungal infection

Oct 21, 2013

For most people, a fungal infection like athlete's foot means a simple trip to the drugstore and a reminder to bring shower shoes to the gym. But in very rare cases, fungal infections can spread below the ...

Gene links obesity and immunity

Aug 16, 2013

Auckland scientists have discovered a gene that links the immune system with obesity and potentially a new pathway to fight the worldwide obesity epidemic.

Recommended for you

The remarkable simplicity of complexity

59 minutes ago

From the fractal patterns of snowflakes to cellular lifeforms, our universe is full of complex phenomena – but how does this complexity arise?

World's first microbe 'zoo' opens in Amsterdam

17 hours ago

The world's first "interactive microbe zoo" opened in Amsterdam on Tuesday, shining new light on the tiny creatures that make up two-thirds of all living matter and are vital for our planet's future.

Study shows how chimpanzees share skills

18 hours ago

Evidence of new behaviour being adopted and transmitted socially from one individual to another within a wild chimpanzee community is publishing on September 30 in the open access journal PLOS Biology. This i ...

User comments : 0