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Defenses against pathogens can take on many forms. For instance, behavioral avoidance of diseased conspecifics is widely documented. Interactions with these infectious conspecifics can also, however, lead to physiological changes in uninfected animals, an effect that is much less well understood. These changes in behavior and physiology are particularly important to study in a reproductive context, where they can impact reproductive decisions and offspring quality. Here, we studied how an acute (3 h) exposure to an immune-challenged male affected female blood transcriptomics and behavior. We predicted that females paired with immune-challenged males would reduce eating and drinking behaviors (as avoidance behaviors) and that their blood would show activation of immune and stress responses. We used female Japanese quail as a study system because they have been shown to respond to male traits, in terms of their own physiology and egg investment. Only two genes showed significant differential expression due to treatment, including an increase in the threonine dehydrogenase (TDH) transcript, an enzyme important for threonine breakdown. However, hundreds of genes in pathways related to activation of immune responses showed coordinated up-regulation in females exposed to immune-challenged males. Suppressed pathways revealed potential changes to metabolism and reduced responsiveness to glucocorticoids. Contrary to our prediction, we found that females paired with immune-challenged males increased food consumption. Water consumption was not changed by treatment. These findings suggest that even short exposure to diseased conspecifics can trigger both behavioral and physiological responses in healthy animals.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in General and Comparative Endocrinology. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in General and Comparative Endocrinology, volume 330, in 2023.

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Available for download on Friday, October 06, 2023