Do maternally derived antibodies and early immune experience shape the adult immune response?


Correspondence author. Life and Environmental Science, Deakin University at Waurn Ponds, Pigdons Rd, Geelong, Vic. 3217, Australia. E-mail:


1. Immunological imprinting by maternally derived antibodies has been proposed to have both positive and negative consequences for offspring immunity in early and adult life. However, few studies of maternal effects on immunity have followed individuals past the juvenile stages.

2. Using laboratory Japanese quail, we developed a novel method of directly manipulating yolk antibodies of neonates, and then followed individuals through a series of immune challenges until they were of reproductive age.

3. Our method of directly injecting purified antibodies into the yolk sac of newly hatched chicks successfully elevated the plasma titres of specific anti-KLH IgY in neonates. This allows us to test whether differences in neonatal anti-KLH IgY affect immunity at the juvenile and adult stages of life.

4. We found little evidence for an effect of maternal antibodies on juvenile stage immune response, in contrast to results from previous studies. Adult immune response depended largely on the magnitude of the juvenile immune response regardless of the identity of the antigen in the juvenile immune challenge, and did not depend on neonatal IgY titres. Our results are consistent with a priming effect of early immune experience on adult stage immune responsiveness, but we found no evidence of carryover effects of yolk-derived antibodies on adult immunity.

5. This study employs new methodology for investigation of maternal antibodies and presents results suggesting that further studies of maternal effects on immunity will require careful consideration of the numerous ways maternally derived yolk components can impact the different types of immune response.