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Lysozyme-associated bactericidal activity in the ejaculate of a wild passerine

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Corresponding author. E-mail: melissah.rowe@nhm.uio.no

Abstract

Numerous antibacterial substances have been identified in the ejaculates of animals and are suggested to protect sperm from bacterial-induced damage in both the male and female reproductive tracts. Lysozymes, enzymes that exhibit bactericidal activity through their ability to break down bacterial cell walls, are likely to be particularly important for sperm defence as they are part of the constitutive innate immune system and are thus immediately available to protect sperm from bacterial attack. Birds are an ideal model for studies of ejaculate antimicrobial defences because of the dual function of the avian cloaca (i.e. waste excretion and sperm transfer), yet the antibacterial activity of avian ejaculates remains largely unexplored, and data on ejaculate lysozyme levels are only available for the domestic turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). Moreover, ejaculate lysozyme levels have not been reported for any species in the wild; which many argue is necessary to gain a comprehensive understanding of the function and dynamics of immune responses. Here, we show that lysozyme is present in the ejaculate of a wild passerine, the superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus), and that the concentration of lysozyme in ejaculates varies substantially among males. This variation, however, is not associated with male condition, sperm quality or plumage coloration. Nevertheless, we suggest that lysozyme-associated antibacterial activity in ejaculates may be the target of natural and sexual selection and that these enzymes are likely to function in defending avian sperm from bacterial-induced damage. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2013, 109, 92–100.

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