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Keywords:

  • ecological immunology;
  • human growth and development;
  • acute phase response;
  • life history theory;
  • infectious disease;
  • Amazonia

Abstract

Immune function is a central component of maintenance effort, and it provides critical protection against the potentially life threatening effects of pathogens. However, immune defenses are energetically expensive, and the resources they consume are not available to support other activities related to growth and/or reproduction. In our study we use a life history theory framework to investigate tradeoffs between maintenance effort and growth among children in a remote area of Amazonian Bolivia. Baseline concentrations of C-reactive protein (CRP) were measured in 309 2- to 10-year olds as an indicator of immune activation, and height was measured at baseline and three months later. Elevated CRP at baseline predicts smaller gains in height over the subsequent three months, with the costs to growth particularly high for 2- to 4-year olds and for those with low energy reserves (in the form of body fat) at the time of immunostimulation. These results provide evidence for a significant tradeoff between investment in immunity and growth in humans, and highlight an important physiological mechanism through which maintenance effort may have lasting effects on child growth and development. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.