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The Journal of Experimental Biology 213, 661-671
© 2010. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd

Understanding the vertebrate immune system: insights from the reptilian perspective
L. M. Zimmerman*, L. A. Vogel and R. M. Bowden
School of Biological Sciences, Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61790-4120, USA
*Author for correspondence (

Accepted 11 December 2009

Reptiles are ectothermic amniotes, providing the key link between ectothermic anamniotic fishes and amphibians, and
endothermic amniotic birds and mammals. A greater understanding of reptilian immunity will provide important insights into the
evolutionary history of vertebrate immunity as well as the growing field of eco-immunology. Like mammals, reptile immunity is
complex and involves innate, cell-mediated and humoral compartments but, overall, there is considerably less known about
immune function in reptiles. We review the current literature on each branch of the reptilian immune system, placing this
information in context to other vertebrates. Further, we identify key areas that are prime for research as well as areas that are
lagging because of lack of reagents in non-model systems.
Key words: ecological immunology, reptile, innate immunity, adaptive immunity.


The vertebrate immune system is a vastly complex network of
circulating cells and molecules as well as large tissues and organs
(Table1). While composed of both innate and adaptive
components, there is much cross-talk between these two branches.
The innate branch of the immune system is thought to have evolved
before the adaptive branch, and is characterized by a set of nonspecific responses that act quickly as an initial defense against
pathogens, and does not require previous exposure to mount a full
response. All multicellular organisms have some form of innate
immunity, ranging from small antimicrobial peptides to large
phagocytic cells (Medzhitov and Janeway, 2000). While the innate
system responds rapidly, the adaptive immune system may take
several days or weeks to become fully activated, and requires prior
exposure to an antigen to mount a full immunological response,
utilizing both cell-mediated and humoral responses (Coico et al.,
2003). The cells that comprise the adaptive immune system of
jawed vertebrates have long been known to generate diverse
antigen receptors for detection and elimination of pathogens
through rearrangement of immunoglobulin genes. In addition,
recently a new type of variable lymphocyte receptor (VLR)
composed of leucine-rich repeats has been identified in the sea
lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), a jawless fish (Pancer et al., 2004).
Although much is known about the functioning of the immune
system in mammals, relatively less is known for non-mammalian
vertebrates. For example, the recent discovery of lamprey VLRs,
an entirely novel antigen recognition system, suggests that efforts
to understand the mammalian immune system will be aided by a
more systematic approach to investigating immune function across
vertebrate groups. Reptiles are the only ectothermic amniotes, and
therefore become a pivotal group to study in order to provide
important insights into both the evolution of the immune system as
well as the functioning of the immune system in an ecological
setting. Reptiles share a suite of life-history characters with other
amniotes. Most notably they have an increasingly terrestrial
lifestyle with reproduction taking place on land, and they do not

undergo metamorphosis as is common in amphibians. Reptiles are
generally long-lived, with a protracted period of growth and
maturation early in life. However, because they are ectothermic,
reptiles are unable to internally regulate their body temperature, and
undergo strong seasonal shifts in behavior associated with
environmental temperatures. Collectively, these characteristics
may have profound effects on how reptiles partition resources to
self-maintenance activities, including immune function. Although
researchers have been investigating the reptilian immune system
for some time, there is still much to learn about the immune
responses of reptiles. Here we review the literature on the reptilian
immune response and identify key areas in need of further
Lymphoid tissues

Lymphoid tissues in reptiles include the thymus, spleen, gutassociated lymphoid tissue (GALT) and bone marrow (Kvell et al.,
2007). Reptiles do not have lymph nodes and do not form germinal
centers (Zapata et al., 1992). As in mammals, the thymus is the site
of T cell maturation (Jurd, 1994). Also similar to mammals, the
spleen of reptiles has both red and white pulp, with a marginal zone
through which cells can pass (Zapata et al., 1981a; Kroese and Van
Rooijen, 1982). While germinal centers do not form in the spleen,
splenectomy totally or partially suppresses the humoral response,
demonstrating the functional importance of the spleen in reptiles
(Kanakambika and Muthukkaruppan, 1972a; Hussein et al., 1979a).
GALT can trap and concentrate antigens, which then interact with
lymphocytes present in the tissue (Coico et al., 2003). In both
mammals and reptiles, bone marrow is the site of hematopoiesis
(Zapata et al., 1981b).
The lymphoid tissues of reptiles structurally vary with the
seasons. While seasonal variation in the structure of GALT has
been noted, it is species specific (Hussein et al., 1978; Hussein et
al., 1979; El Ridi et al., 1981). Both the thymus and white pulp of
the spleen are well defined in the autumn, involuted during the
winter, and are again well developed by the end of spring but


. 8Matsunaga and Rahman. 16Kluger et al. IgX... Zapata et al. 1981b. Thammasirirak et al.. A -defensin like peptide. Zimmerman. 21Li et al. IgD.. Ingram and Molyneux. and the small differences found were attributed to differences in their primary structure (Gayen et al. 7El Ridi et al. IgD. IgA. IgA. In addition to lysozymes. 10Ganz. 1981. 2007. 12Mondal and Rai. 1975. M. M.. reptiles also have antimicrobial proteins that are similar in structure and function to defensins. 2003). 1992. IgY. 1998. Asiatic soft-shelled turtle (Amyda cartilagenea) and green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) found that while each had varying degrees of lytic ability against several strains of both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria. 2005). Hussein et al. 1998.. lysozymes. Lysozymes are enzymes that can cause the lysis of bacteria by hydrolysis of their cell wall.662 L. L. 1992. The protein exhibited strong antibacterial activity against Escherichia coli and Salmonella typhimurium as well as antiviral activity against the Chandipura virus (Chattopadhyay et al. 4Jurd. IgE . 1992).. . 1984. Overview of the tetrapod immune system General Amniote Endotherm Ectotherm Lymphoid tissue Thymus Spleen Bone marrow Bursa fabricii GALT Peyer’s patches Lymph nodes Germinal centers Innate Antimicrobial peptides Complement Non-specific leukocytes Macrophages Heterophils/neutrophils Basophils Eosinophils Inflammation Fever Adaptive Cell-mediated MHC (Class I. 1988. 1991. IgD  ? + + Poor + IgM. 2008. 1981. 14 Sypek et al. 2Davison et al. 2009. Vogel and R... 2006). 11Sunyer and Lambris... II) TCR Humoral Antibody heavy chain isotypes Light chain isotypes Phagocytic B cells RAG Class switching Affinity maturation Somatic hypermutation Amphibians1 Reptiles Birds2 Mammals3 – – + + – + + + – + + – + + + – + – – – +4 +5 +6 – +7 –8 –9 –9 + + + + + + + + + + + – + + + + + + +10 +11 + + + + + + + + +12 +13 +14 +4 + + + + + + + + + (behavioral)15 + (behavioral)16 + + + + +17 +17 + + + + IgM. Lynch et al. 3Coico et al. 1998. IgY. 2003..19 . Bowden Table 1. none were effective against the bacteria strains that were the most pathogenic to reptile species (Thammasirirak et al. 24Turchin and Hsu. IgG. and have been isolated from lizards and several species of turtles (Gayen et al. 2006). Araki et al.  – + + + + 1 Robert and Ohta. was also found in the eggshell of the Chinese soft- THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY . 2008. Egg white of the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) lacks lysozyme but contains a small cationic protein that structurally and functionally resembles a subfamily of defensins known as -defensins. and thus both reptiles and hibernating mammals must reconstitute their T cell population in the spring as the thymus begins to redevelop (Kruman. Defensins are proteins that have a characteristic -sheet-rich fold as well as six disulphide-linked cysteines and have been found in all mammals that have been examined as well as in birds (Ganz. 20 +22 +23 +24 –24 +24 IgM. 2001. 1983. 1988.  +21 + + – + IgM. 1996. Lysozyme from the Indian soft-shelled turtle (Trionyx gangeticus) was shown to have similar enzymatic properties when compared with hen lysozyme. A.. El Ridi et al. nonhibernating mammals undergo an age-related involution of the thymus (Taub and Longo.. 15Kluger. By contrast. 5Hussein et al. Both the age-related involution and the seasonal involution of reptiles and mammals are believed to be a result of interactions between the lymphoid tissue and the neuroendocrine system (El Ridi et al.. 1979b.. 18Deza et al. 1977). the complement pathway and non-specific leukocytes. 1992.. 20Das et al. 17Kaufman et al.. demonstrate species-specific differences in development during the summer (Hussein et al. 13Montali. IgF . 22Zimmerman et al. Innate immunity The innate immune system is comprised of a variety of molecules and cells that act as a non-specific first line of protection against pathogens and includes antimicrobial peptides. 1979a. IgY. 2006).. 1978. IgA? IgD?18.. 23Kvell et al. 6Zapata et al. 2009). 2009. 2007. 1992).... 1977. 2003. Hibernating mammals also show thymic involution in the winter. A comparison of lysozymes from the Chinese soft-shelled turtle (Pelodiscus sinensis). pelovaterin.. unless otherwise specified. 9Zapata et al.. Kruman. 2006. 19Deza and Espinel. 2008. 1994.

. The lysis occurred within 2min and reached maximum activity after 20min.. teleosts. 2004). including macrophages. which is the range of internal body temperatures of wild alligators. Known as TBD-1. Activity was also significantly decreased at temperatures above 30°C. coli. Temperature can affect the phagocytic activity of macrophages in reptiles. 2005). birds and mammals (Tomasinsig and Zanetti. E. Activity was significantly decreased at temperatures below 15°C. all of which are reported to be resistant to human complement lysis (Merchant et al. 2009). aureus. teleosts. Merchant et al. typhi. Heating of the alligator serum to 56°C for 30min depleted it of bactericidal activity (complement proteins are heat labile at this temperature). P. Another widely distributed family of antimicrobial peptides are the cathelicidins. The effect of temperature on the lysis was similar to the effect on antimicrobial activity previously reported in alligators. help to suppress microbial invasion and are also involved in the inflammatory response in reptiles. In contrast to defensins.. heterophils.Reptile immunity shelled turtle (Lakshminarayanan et al. the protein displayed all of the structural hallmarks of a -defensin. sharks. Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Proteus vulgaris. Merchant et al. indicating that physiological processes in the alligator are optimized near this temperature (Merchant et al. which may produce differences in the range of antimicrobial activity between the two proteins. 2008). the peptide demonstrated strong activity against E. Potent antiviral activity was observed at serum concentrations as little as 1. the basophils degranulate and release histamine but this release is dependent upon antigen concentration and temperature. suggesting that alligators may be immunocompromised in the winter when body temperatures are commonly below this threshold. 2003). has been identified in venom from the banded krait Bungarus fasciatus (Wang et al. cathelicidin-BF was more potent than ampicillin and benzylpenicillin and was even effective against clinically isolated drug resistant Salmonella typhi and Klebsiella pneumoniae (Wang et al. which demonstrated antibacterial activity against S. unlike mammalian defensins which are predominantly hydrophilic and cationic in charge. monocytes.. attached via Fc receptors. Another key component of innate immunity is the complement system. suggesting that a mechanism other than complement was responsible (Merchant et al. They found that alligator serum was effective against several strains of Grampositive bacteria whereas human serum was not. coli.. Their size can vary widely between species (Montali. It is named the alternative pathway only because the classical pathway was discovered first (Seelen et al. and does not require antibodies. 2005). The alternative pathway is activated by molecules such as a virus or a lipopolysaccharide (LPS) on the surface of bacteria. Histamine release also increased with increasing antigen concentration before reaching a THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY . suggesting that the alternative pathway was responsible for the lysis.. The classical pathway was the last of the three pathways to evolve. as well as activity against several fungi... the complement proteins rupture the bacterial membrane and thus kill the invading bacteria directly (Seelen et al. amphibians. the proteins coat the bacterial membrane enabling the bacteria to be recognized by macrophages. basophils and eosinophils. including those from the genus Bacillus. therefore... which are functionally equivalent to mammalian neutrophils. Staphylococcus epidermidis. In lysis. K. These antimicrobial peptides offer potent protection for reptiles against infection as well as provide exciting opportunities in the search for new clinical or agricultural antibiotics. this killing was not heat liable. 2005). 2008). Merchant and Britton (Merchant and Britton. Alligator serum was also effective against West Nile virus and Herpes simplex virus. However. 2003). A cathelicidin. Mondal and Rai report that the highest levels of phagocytosis and cytotoxicity of splenic macrophages from wall lizards (Hemidactylus flaviviridis) occurred at 25°C. In opsonization. Heterophils. When triggered by an antigen. birds and mammals (Sunyer and Lambris. which then engulf the bacteria through phagocytosis. however.. examined the efficacy of the reptilian complement system by comparing the antibacterial effectiveness of serum from the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) with 663 that of human serum (Merchant et al. and is activated by the immunoglobins IgG and IgM. In many cases. 2008). some strains of Gram-positive bacteria. pelovaterin did not exhibit a broad range but was limited in its effects to two Gram-negative bacteria. 2001). The presence of the alternative and classical pathways in reptiles has been confirmed. While mammalian defensins exhibit a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity. it is believed that reptiles also have this pathway because of its presence in the jawless fishes. Despite low sequence similarity. Incubating basophils from the common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) with rabbit anti-turtle immunoglobulin resulted in histamine release at ranges of temperatures from 10°C to 37°C with optimal release at 27°C. including C. and while no direct evidence has been found for the lectin pathway. Cathelicidin-BF exhibited strong antimicrobial activity against Gram-negative bacteria. S. most cathelicidins are linear molecules that lack disulfide bridges. A small cationic protein was isolated from the Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis). Complement is also believed to be responsible for the antiviral activity of alligator serum against a laboratory-adapted strain of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1). indicating a broader spectrum for complement-based antibacterial activity in alligators than in humans. 1998). which supports past research. 2003. There are a suite of non-specific leukocytes present in reptiles. Antimicrobial and amoebacidal activity occurred at temperatures between 5°C and 40°C.. with impaired macrophage function at both higher and lower temperatures (Mondal and Rai. Candida albicans and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (Stegemann.. providing direct evidence that the complement system was responsible for the killing. Monocytes and macrophages are phagocytic cells that process and present antigens and also release cytokines (Coico et al. known as cathelicidin-BF.. Listeria monocytogenes. 2004). alternative and lectin pathways. The first defensin from reptilian leukocytes was recently isolated from the European pond turtle Emys orbicularis. The lectin pathway is activated by mannose residues of proteins that are found on the surface of bacteria (Coico et al. 2008). Alligator serum also demonstrated amoebacidal effects against three strains of Naegleria species and four Acanthamoeba species. having been identified in hagfish. Human T cells were infected with HIV-1 and incubated with alligator serum. The complement cascade can be accomplished by three different pathways: classical. albicans. 2005). The complement system consists of a series of proteins that exist in the plasma and kill invading bacteria either through the process of opsonization or by lysis. Basophils contain antigen-specific immunoglobulins on their surfaces. aeruginosa and Vibrio chorelae (Preecharram et al. pelovaterin is hydrophobic and anionic. was heat sensitive and was unaffected by methylamine. pneumoniae. In a subsequent study. 2006) found that the lysis of sheep red blood cells by serum from saltwater (Crocodylus porosus) and freshwater (Crocodylus johnstoni) crocodiles required divalent metal ions. 2005).6% while the human T cells demonstrated 100% viability (Merchant et al. 2003). 1988).

2003). which includes tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha). Extracellular pathogens in reptiles will induce the formation of heterophilic granulomas. IL-1 is found in two forms. IFN-like activity was also found in a turtle heart cell line when infected with Saint Louis encephalitis virus (Mathews and Vorndam. Chronic granulomas can form from both heterophilic and histiocytic granulomas (Montali. B cells and dendritic cells of mammals. including macrophages. IL-2 is produced by T cells and stimulates growth and differentiation of several cell types. IL-8 has also been identified in birds (Wu et al. despite the importance of TLRs in the initiation of the immune response. An IL-2-like molecule that enhanced the mitogenesis of diadem snake (Spalerosophis diadema) thymocytes was identified (El Ridi et al. Fever is also part of the inflammatory response of vertebrates.. IFN-like activity was found in kidney and peritoneal cells of the tortoise Testudo graeca after viral infection (Galabov and Velichkova. indicating that production of IL-1 was reduced at both lower and higher temperatures (Mondal and Rai. in response to an intracellular pathogen.. Produced in response to endogenous proinflammatory cytokines and exogenous stimuli. IFN genes have been sequenced in fish. However. 2004). little is known about their function in this group. 1987). including T cells... including B cells. blood and spleen. interferons (IFN) – so named because they interfere with viral replication – are produced by many cell types after viral infection (Coico et al. 2003). 2009). stimulates a strong macrophage response (Montali. IL1 plays a key role in the regulation of inflammation. which can be produced by most cell types. By contrast. potentially to limit a maladaptive immune response during a period when individuals need to interact with others. IL-8 also triggers both the release of lysozomal enzymes and the respiratory burst (Qiu et al. 2009). In mammals. neutrophils are attracted by the chemokine IL-8. 1988). 2002). TLR genes have been sequenced in mammals. 1975). birds. Production of the IL-1-like molecule was also reduced by injection of either the male sex steroid dihydrotestosterone or the female sex steroid 17estradiol (Mondal and Rai. 2003).664 L. suggesting that this cytokine helps regulate behavioral changes as a result of pathogen infection (Dunlap and Church. 1996). Targeting a wide range of cells. however. T lymphocytes. including the liver. macrophages collect and the centralized macrophages undergo necrosis. information on cytokines and chemokines in reptiles is limited but recent research is providing useful preliminary information on the presence and function of these compounds in reptiles. eosinophils play a role in defense against parasitic infections by producing peroxide and superoxide radicals (Coico et al. with each family recognizing a different molecular pattern of pathogens. IL-1 is a cytokine produced by immune cells. Although eosinophils have been described in reptiles. in turn. and are likely to encounter foreign material. IL-8 mRNA production was upregulated in all organs tested. Six major families of TLRs have been identified.. However. Using a standard cytokine bioassay. such as the transfer of sperm from male to female. kidney. macrophages and T cells. The decrease in activity was similar to that seen in lizards infected with malaria. M. 2001). heart. Regardless of the antigen concentration the reaction lasted 40–60min in contrast to mammalian neutrophils. reptiles will form a histiocytic granuloma. It has been shown that reptiles increase body temperature in response to an infection much like mammals. 2005).. This latter finding may suggest that at least some proinflammatory cytokines are downregulated during reproductive phases. 2008). 1986).. 2003) whereas chemokines are a type of small cytokine that direct the migration of phagocytic cells and lymphocytes (Coico et al. Zimmerman. Cytokines are low molecular weight substances produced by a variety of cell types that mediate cellular interactions (Coico et al. The response varies based on the type of invading organism. 1994). suppressed the febrile response in desert iguanas THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY . TLR2 and TLR4 may be of particular importance to reptiles as they are the receptors for components of Gram-positive bacteria and LPS from Gramnegative bacteria.. Another class of cytokines. reptiles do not form a liquid pus exudate as part of the inflammatory response but instead form a caseous mass that consists mostly of degranulated and degenerated heterophils (Montali. 2001). During this process. intestine. In mammals. An IL1-like molecule was also identified in conditioned media that had been used to culture LPS-stimulated phagocytes from the wall lizard Hemidactylus flaviviridis. interleukin-6 (IL-6) and interleukin-1 (IL-1) in mammals. Kluger et al. 1984). conditioned media from spring and autumn thymocytes was able to restore proliferation in summer and winter thymocytes. these heterophils can last much longer at the site of injury than mammalian neutrophils (Tucunduva et al. However. Bowden maximum at 350gml–1 where it then began to decline. IL-1 and IL-1 (Fitzgerald et al. they must raise their body temperature behaviorally by moving to warmer water or basking. birds and mammals. In endothermic animals fever is accomplished physiologically through an interaction between cytokines and the central nervous system (Conti et al. This. proliferation of immature rat thymocytes was highest when exposed to the conditioned media of phagocytes cultured at 25°C. the biological function of the chemokine has not been tested (Zhou et al. nothing is known about the expression or distribution of TLRs in any reptile. which usually complete the reaction in 2min (Sypek et al. with a large migration of heterophils to the area. Injection of human IL-1 into male western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) resulted in a decrease in above ground activity compared with saline-injected and control lizards. However.. In vertebrates. In mammals. and generally each vertebrate examined has one gene ortholog for each TLR family (Roach et al.. One important function of the innate immune system is to respond to injury or infection via the inflammatory response. Unlike mammals. B cells and macrophages (Fitzgerald et al. whether or not they play a similar role in reptiles remains to be elucidated. such as LPS. Following bacterial infection. degranulate and subsequently undergo necrosis. The early stages of the inflammatory response after injury are similar to that of mammals. respectively (Aderem and Ulevitch. L.. M.. 1988). 2001). such as macrophages. epithelial cells and vascular endothelial cells (Baggiolini et al.. Unfortunately. where heterophils accumulate. 1988). 2002).. suggesting that the IL-2-like molecule is necessary for higher proliferation (El Ridi et al. and recently. 1982). A. 2000). amphibians and fish. an IL-8 homologue was identified and sequenced in the Chinese soft-shelled turtle (T. and the presence of an IFN regulatory factor-related gene expressed during early development in Xenopus suggests that the IFN system may be present in amphibians as well (Schultz et al. The inflammatory response is directed by a series of cytokines and chemokines.. as reptiles are ectotherms. Vogel and R. 2004). 2008) and fish (Laing et al.. 2001). sinensis). Further... cells of the innate immune system use highly conserved Toll-like receptors (TLR) to recognize invading microorganisms and trigger both innate and adaptive immune responses (Leulier and Lemaitre. thymocytes from the snakes showed strong proliferation in response to concanavalin A (Con A) in spring and autumn but not in summer and winter.

. These immune responses then clear any remaining pathogens and form an immunological memory to help quickly control re-infections. including snakes. whether or not cytokines are involved in the reptilian febrile response is unknown. There were no significant differences in the proliferation between males and females in response to Con A and PHA in the Caspian pond turtle (Muñoz and De la Fuente. Afifi et al. T helper cells in reptiles may have a different role than T helper cells in mammals. found a similar seasonal pattern in the diadem snake (S. with females having higher proliferation in response to Con A and PHA than males. with onset occurring after an average of four days. such as cancerous cells.. and that studies of vertebrates.. Duration of rejection was the longest when the graft occurred in the autumn even though onset of rejection appeared rapidly. autumn and winter (Muñoz and De la Fuente. 1993). either a cytotoxic T cell (TC) or a T helper cell (TH). 2006) whereas mercury levels were negatively correlated with lymphocyte proliferation (Day et al. Extensive study in mammals has identified sex differences in cell-mediated immune responses. a Grampositive bacteria. with TH1 cells shifting immune responses toward a cell-mediated response...025mg LPSg–1 non-shell body mass) resulted in a significant increase in body temperature compared with salineinjected controls whereas injection of a low dose of pyrogen (0. amphibians and mammals have identified similar bioactivities of cytokines across taxa. Klein. However. Several studies have examined sex differences in lymphocyte proliferation in reptiles.. This is attributed. 1994). 2001). and TH2 cells shifting toward a humoral response (Coico et al. El Ridi et al. 2001). T helper cells function to regulate other immune cells. Injecting box turtles (Terrapene carolina) with a high dose of pyrogen (0. adaptive immunity becomes activated. Proliferation of lymphocytes from the Caspian pond turtle (Mauremys caspica) in response to Con A and phytohemaglutinin (PHA) was strongest in spring but was significantly diminished in summer. 1984). 1975). Injection of Aeromonas hydrophila. and non-gravid females had a greater response than gravid females (Saad. Now that numerous cytokine-like compounds have been identified in reptiles. 2002). Further investigation of cytokines and chemokines will provide important information on the mechanisms of the inflammatory response and white blood cell migration in reptiles. Allograft rejection is one type of T cell-mediated response that is present in reptiles and has been described in several studies. it might be expected that the cytokines involved may be temperature sensitive. Adaptive immunity Following the immediate on-set innate immune responses. which are sites of immune cell interactions in mammals. turtles and tuatara (Burnham et al. elicited a behaviorally driven febrile response whereas injection of S. 2004). thereby inhibiting behavioral thermoregulation (Kluger et al. 2003). and further study is needed to better understand the febrile response in reptiles. An activated T cell can differentiate into two types of T cells.. 1985. with rejection delayed until the following spring. with females generally having greater cell-mediated immunity than males (Ansar Ahmed et al. This may have occurred because as seasonal conditions changed. 2006). as it has been shown in mammals that sex steroids can shift production of T cell subsets (Salem. 2007). 2007). such as interactions with B cells. The timing of the onset of rejection was longest in the winter. 1987).. In a subsequent study. In mammals. Functional T cells have been found in all reptiles tested. increasing the likelihood that they will accumulate contaminants (Guillette et al. in part because they are common inhabitants of contaminated areas and also because many reptiles are long-lived. More extensive study into sex differences of cellmediated immunity would benefit greatly from further reagent development to distinguish between TC and TH responses as well as TH1 and TH2 responses. diadema) in response to the T cell mitogen Con A (El Ridi et al. in part. T cells regulate antibody production but do not actually produce antibodies. The nature of both the pathogen and the innate immune response set up conditions that will ultimately stimulate either cellmediated or humoral adaptive immunity. Likewise. Lymphocyte proliferation in the loggerhead sea turtle was positively correlated with concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the blood (Keller et al. a Gram-negative bacteria. 2007).. did not (Merchant et al. they did not allow for the THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY . Because reptiles do not have lymph nodes and do not form germinal centers. The febrile response in reptiles may also be dependent on the dose of pyrogen. Cytotoxic T cells rapidly kill a cell that has been infected by a bacteria or virus by triggering apoptosis and can also attack altered or damaged cells. Farag and El Ridi found that lymphocytes from the striped sand snake (Psammophis sibilans) had the highest proliferation in a mixed leukocyte reaction during the spring and autumn (Farag and El Ridi. An early study on the role of the thymus in the immune responses 665 of the lizard Calotes versicolor suggest the presence of both a cytotoxic-like T cell and a regulatory T helper cell in reptiles (Pitchappan and Muthukkaruppan. which act to limit the spread of infection. T helper cells can further be subdivided into TH1 and TH2 cells. For example. to the effect of sex steroids. lizards. examined the febrile response in the American alligator and found that injection of bacterial LPS resulted in both an increased maximum and mean preferred body temperature for two days postinjection (Merchant et al. Iguanas held at an elevated temperature after bacterial infection had a significantly higher rate of survival. The lizards were able to acutely reject the allograft during the summer. sex differences were detected in the proliferation of lymphocytes from the striped sand snake. including fish.. aureus. it appears that there is little cross-reactivity between antibodies that recognize cytokines of mammalian and ectothermic vertebrates (Scapigliati et al. T cell proliferation is strongly affected by the seasonal cycle in reptiles. 2005). Environmental contaminants can also affect proliferation. Modulation of the immune system by environmental contaminants could put reptiles at a greater risk for disease. and the role of T cells in defense against parasites and pathogens are needed.Reptile immunity (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) by placing them in incubators that were kept at a constant temperature.. 2004). These studies suggest a complex yet important relationship between infection and body temperature. we can begin to explore the functional significance of cytokines from a taxonomic perspective.. there was no effect of sex or plasma testosterone concentration found on lymphocyte proliferation from loggerhead sea turtles in response to Con A and PHA (Keller et al. found a seasonal pattern in the ability of the ocellated skink (Chalcides ocellatus) to reject skin grafts (Afifi et al. 1977). so reagent development is critical to extend this line of research... indicating the importance of fever in reptiles.0025mg LPSg–1 non-shell body mass) resulted in a significant decrease in body temperature compared with the controls (Amaral et al. Merchant et al. Further studies exploring the functionality of the T cell in reptiles. 1989). Unfortunately. but if so. 2005). Cell-mediated immunity Cell-mediated immunity involves a class of lymphocytes known as T cells.

Wei et al. IgD and IgD2. cloaca. Two IgD immunoglobulin genes. including those in the wild. 2003). Unlike T cells. Amphibians possess three light chain isotypes.. IgD was detected in tissue from the stomach. 1972. 2007). It is highly effective at activating complement (Coico et al. spleen and blood cells at the same levels as IgM.. Li et al. In mammals. 1999.5S molecule and a truncated 5. This antibody may have arisen from a recombination between IgM and IgY (Deza et al. and do not require that the antigen be processed by an intermediate cell (Coico et al. a protein that links monomeric IgM and IgA. cattle and rabbits have limited combinatorial diversity and use gene conversion with a series of upstream pseudogenes to generate higher amounts of antigen-binding diversity (Litman et al. Arakawa et al. Psammodromus algirus and Acanthodactylus erythrurus (Belliure et al. have been sequenced in the leopard gecko (E. The function of IgD is not entirely understood but it is expressed on the surface of mature B cells along with IgM and may play a role in modulating B cell development (Geisberger et al. as well as the ecological implications of this capacity.666 L. and is expressed in the lung.... is produced in greater quantity and provides the major defense against infections. 2005). B cells. 2004). Humoral immunity Another function of T cells is to release cytokines that can affect the humoral responses of an organism. Zimmerman. mucus and gastric fluid and is an important defense against respiratory and gastrointestinal infections (Coico et al. M. 2003). 1996). Surprisingly. 2008). stomach.. Recently. J chain from the red-eared slider turtle has been sequenced... In mammals. 2002). Further. 2002). By contrast. each antibody is composed of two identical heavy chains and two identical light chains held together by disulfide bonds.. where local T cells are stimulated. and consequently has the potential to be a useful means of assessing an integrated immune response. which produce antibodies when stimulated by an antigen. Bowden rejection to occur completely before the onset of winter. 2006). The PHA skin-swelling test has been widely used in domestic animals and recently has been extensively used in avian studies as a measure of cell-mediated immunity. The variable region of the heavy chain is created by rearrangement of a series of variable (V). L..  and  whereas reptiles and some mammals. the variable region of both chains forms the antigen-binding site.7S molecule. 1990).. liver. 1985).. and more study is needed on the PHA response and factors that may affect the response. IgM. PHA is injected beneath the skin.. kidney. .. It is also passed from the mother to the embryo via the yolk (Warr et al. the lack of IgA in the anole lizard suggests the loss of this gene in this species (Wei et al. the PHA test is relatively simple and can be performed on a large number of animals. Both the heavy chain and the light chain contain a constant region and a variable region. In jawed vertebrates. lung. the function of the truncated form remains unknown (Leslie and Clem. 2005). an IgA gene was not identified in the anole lizard (Anolis carolinensis). only have  and  (Das et al. Podarcis muralis (Oppliger et al. Experimentally increasing testosterone levels in two species of Mediterranean lacertid lizards. 2009). Antibodies are divided into classes based on the isotype of the heavy chain... Identification of B cells with the ability to engulf 1m beads in both amphibians and teleost fish has given additional support to this hypothesis (Li et al. Further study is THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY . The constant region determines the immunoglobulin isotype. An IgD gene was also found in the anole lizard (Wei et al. 2008). and the common wall lizard. 2002). including humans. Mammals produce five classes of immunoglobulins (Igs) whereas reptiles produce at least two classes. The mammalian antibodies IgG and IgE are reported to be derived from IgY (Brown. Together.. Farag and El Ridi found that. B cells can recognize an antigen in its natural state. IgM is produced in response to Gram-negative bacteria and is a lytic antibody that has a halflife of about 10 days. Using a commercially available rabbit anti-human CD3 marker (a molecule found only on T cells) that cross reacts with green turtle CD3. Reptile heavy chain genes contain a high level of genetic diversity and are arranged as a single locus with multiple heavy chain variable region genes (Turchin and Hsu. it provides information on a broad scale immune response that is initiated by a T cell response. While this technique has only recently been used in reptiles. Muñoz et al. Turtles. While providing support for the hypothesis that B cells evolved from a phagocytic predecessor. The evolutionary origins of IgD have been uncertain because the antibody was first identified only in mammals and bony fish but has recently been identified in amphibians as well (Ohta and Flajnik. 1995). is the first immunoglobulin produced in response to an infection and exists in the serum in a pentameric form. 2008). In the test. Vogel and R. 2009). however.. IgD2 was also found in these tissues but at very low levels (Deza and Espinel. 2009). birds. and each class has a different function. found that an increase in corticosterone levels in Galápagos marine iguanas (Amblyrhynchus cristatus) also resulted in a decreased PHA response (Berger et al. this finding also suggests a wide range of possible studies on both the cellular interactions and functions of a phagocytic B cell. 2003). IgA is found in secretions such as saliva. 2006). M. however. Reptiles may also produce the immunoglobulin IgD. IgM and IgY (Natarajan and Muthukkaruppan. provided that they can be reliably recaptured. Another key component of the secretory immunoglobulins is the joining (J) chain. 2006). 2009).. Several studies have used this technique to examine the effect of steroids on cell-mediated immunity in reptiles. 2006). as IgA is found in birds. diversity (D) and joining (J) gene segments while the light chain is formed from a rearrangement of V and D gene segments. tortoises and anole lizards produce two forms of IgY. In contrast to IgM. resulted in a decreased PHA response. Humoral immunity involves another class of lymphocytes.. López and Martín demonstrated that female Iberian wall lizards (Podarcis hispanica) preferred male scents that signaled greater PHA responses (López and Martín. which is found in all jawed vertebrates. IgY has a longer half-life. B cells of the red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta) have also been demonstrated to have this phagocytic capacity. Berger et al. extending this function into the amniotes (Zimmerman et al. spleen and intestine (Iwata et al. B cells are not considered to be phagocytic but evidence for a developmental relationship between macrophages and a class of B cells called B-1 cells has led to the hypothesis that B cells evolved from a cell that had characteristics of both cell types (Katsura. a 7. like other vertebrates. intestine. mammals and the leopard gecko. macularius) (Deza and Espinel. 2009).. an IgA-like antibody has been found in the intestines of the leopard gecko (Eublepharis macularius). which results in the recruitment of other types of immune cells from both the adaptive and innate branches (Martin et al. tissue rejection in reptiles is dependent on the major histocompatibility gene complex (MHC) (Farag and El Ridi. 2004). 2002. demonstrated that injections of PHA activate T lymphocytes in reptiles in a similar manner as in mammals (Muñoz et al. 2006). Recently. A.

2008). a robust innate immune system that interacts with NAbs may represent an effective alternative strategy for ectotherms.. Martin et al.. 2003). NAbs are germ-line encoded (Naparstek et al.. 2001)... 2009). 2000)... 2007). In mammals. and it has been hypothesized that the low responses observed are due to the lack of germinal centers in these taxa (Hsu. After immunization. Martin. Work et al. reptiles can have a prolonged IgM response before switching to IgY production (Grey. antibodies can be detected after a latent period of around one week but often do not peak until six or eight weeks post-immunization (Grey. IgG is the major antibody of the secondary response in mammals (Coico et al. In mammals. For example. However. 1991). 1999. 2001). Mammalian responses are represented by the solid line and bold text. 2007).Reptile immunity needed to understand the functions of these recently identified immunoglobulins and confirm their presence in other reptiles. however. unpublished data). 2003). 2001. 1969.. In reptiles. However. in birds. In birds antibody responses are more rapid. Martin et al. 2000). Kanakambika and Muthukkaruppan. 1963).. however.. After antigen stimulation. While IgM is once again the first antibody produced. NAbs can reduce the severity of viral and bacterial infections by initiating a variety of immune responses of both the innate and adaptive branches through processes such as activating complement and targeting antigen to the spleen to activate B cells (Boes et al. Origgi et al. IgM is the first antibody produced. 2009) and red-eared sliders (L. Antibody production in mammals declines and ceases a few weeks after reaching peak titers (Coico et al. Lee.1. which is also important in generating an effective memory response. 1969. 2000). While both endotherms and ectotherms experience seasonal variation in immune responses (Zapata et al. There are key differences between ectotherms and endotherms that can influence the immune system and make it important to include ectothermic vertebrates in eco-immunology studies. In reptiles. Marchalonis et al.. 1998).. 2003. 2006. Pye et al. NAbs are known to occur in many vertebrate groups but have been difficult to characterize immunologically as they appear to function at the crossroads of innate and humoral immunity. IgA and IgG NAbs have been identified (Avrameas. Amphibians and fish also produce less vigorous responses in comparison with mammals. it is possible that they may rely more heavily on an alternative antibody response facilitated by natural antibodies (NAbs). where changes in the variable region of an immunoglobulin occur after antigen stimulation (Coico et al. 2003)..... the slow response may not be a function of temperature alone. most information on NAbs comes from studies of mammals. 2007).1). Arrows represent time of immunization. 1994). Ochsenbein and Zinkernagel. Nelson.. with the shift occurring around 10 days after immunization (Coico et al. 2006. 1983. 2001. The isotype of the secondary response in reptiles has not been determined. followed by IgG.. Snoeijs et al. Additional variability in antigen binding can occur through the process of somatic hypermutation. age. 1980). in mammals production is shifted from IgM to IgG. The kinetics of an antibody response to immunization in mammals and reptiles. 2003). 2008). The latent period in birds is around three to five days (Snoeijs et al. Ingram and Molyneux. which can then interact with cells such as macrophages that have receptors for the constant region of IgG (Coico et al. water pythons (Madsen et al. Coico et al. 1996). Although this increased latency could be attributed to ectothermy.. NAbs are released spontaneously in the absence of antigen stimulation by a class of B cells known as B-1 cells (Ochesenbein and Zinkernagel.. antibody responses often do not increase in titer or in binding affinity during the secondary response (Grey. 1963.. which is most probably attributable to their higher body temperatures (Jurd. polyreactive to evolutionarily conserved components of pathogens and have a low-binding affinity (Ochesenbein and Zinkernagel. Ochsenbein et al. 1996). including sex. In reptiles. 2008. The advantage of somatic hypermutation is to increase the affinity of responding cells. 1972b). NAbs have the potential to be an integral part of the reptilian immune response. Grey found that housing of painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) for one month at 37°C did not alter the kinetics of the response compared with turtles held at 25°C (Grey. 1992. Why study ectotherms in eco-immunology? IgM/ IgY? IgM/IgY IgM IgM 3 667 8 13 18 23 28 Week Fig. 2003). isotype switching and somatic hypermutation can occur. Ujvari and Madsen. reptile humoral responses are slower. 2000. garter snakes (Sparkman and Palacios. 1963). 2003). but of shorter duration.M.. The rapidly growing field of eco-immunology has examined factors that may explain variation in immune responses. the latent period in reptiles is shortened upon a second exposure to Antibody titer IgG IgG an antigen (Work et al.Z. titer is increased but it is unclear if affinity maturation also occurs (Davison et al. 1963. 2004. 1986). Reptile responses are represented by the dotted line and nonbold text.. In comparison. This switch can change the biological effector function of the immunoglobulin molecule. stress and trade-offs with other costly physiological processes (Rolff. most of the studies in the field involve the endothermic birds and mammals (Norris and Evans. variation in seasonal pressures. Evidence has been found for somatic hypermutation in reptiles (Turchin and Hsu.. 2008). While most NAbs are of the IgM isotype. Martin et al. 2001. 2003). 2000. often do not increase in titer upon a second exposure and fail to produce antibodies with an increase in binding affinity (Fig. Similar to mammals and birds.. NAbs have been identified in alligators (Longenecker and Mosmann. Isotype switching has been demonstrated to occur in reptiles (Turchin and Hsu. the magnitude and type THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY .. Despite similarities to mammals in the generation of antibody diversity. Isotype switching occurs when a B cell produces one type of immunoglobulin and then switches production to another isotype but retains the same antigen specificity. mammals also have a latent period of around one week depending on the antigen and immunization route but titers peak around two weeks post-immunization (Coico et al. Because of the comparatively slower and less robust adaptive humoral responses observed in reptiles. and further study is warranted to determine the role NAbs play.. 1998. antibodies from the primary response have been detected as long as 34 weeks postimmunization (Origgi et al. Marchalonis et al. Relative to mammals. antibody titer and affinity are increased after a second exposure compared with the primary response (Coico et al.

. thereby increasing our knowledge of vertebrate immunity and the evolution of this complex and diverse system. but often with the strongest responses occurring at a certain species-specific temperature. with impaired responses at temperatures above and below that optimal temperature (Le Morvan et al. The immune system of amphibians has also become a subject of increasing interest due to the recent major declines in these taxa (Carey et al. antimicrobial peptides and the complement system. Raffel et al. reptiles have low reproductive efforts and longer life spans compared with amphibians (Vitt and Caldwell. As a whole. However. L. Also. The recent identification in the leopard gecko of two additional isotypes of immunoglobulins highlights the lack of information about the humoral responses. In particular. M. and these may impact immune responses. amphibians experience a temporary immunosuppression. Amphibians display two phases of immune development due to metamorphosis. which have been separate lineages for approximately 300 million years (Gibbons et al. The innate system. 1999). 2000). for example. Vitt and Caldwell. A variety of other amphibian species have been the subject of a wide range of eco-immunology studies. several useful tools have already been developed for amphibians that have yet to be developed for reptiles. THE JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY . these differences could substantially affect exposure to both pathogens and environmental pollution in these groups. reagent development will be critical in allowing more detailed characterization of nonmammalian immunity such as cell markers to differentiate T cell types and cytokines. The presence of the calcified shell is regarded as a critical step in allowing the embryos of amniotes to develop on land whereas amphibians must develop in close association with a moist environment. responds quickly as a non-specific first line of defense against a broad range of pathogens. including T cell proliferation and allograft rejection. Merchant et al.e. 2008).. 2009) but no reports are currently available on whether or not Xenopus reagents cross-react with other species of amphibians. Finally. which includes components such as non-specific leukocytes. reptiles do not metamorphose. and do not increase in binding affinity. pathogens.g. it is important to consider how life history may influence resource allocation patterns. one may ask why incorporate reptiles when the amphibian immune system has been the focus of more intensive study. In response to immunization in reptiles. Cell-mediated responses. have many differences that could substantially impact the immune responses of these taxa. reptilian immune responses have received relatively little attention. 2006). Taken together. 1998. including studies such as the effect of behavioral fever on predator–prey interactions and the effect of temperature on immunity under natural conditions (Parris et al. 2005). 2008). endotherms) will probably face very different resource demands than those that are not so constrained. and it is clear that many opportunities exist to enhance our understanding of reptilian immunity. In response to environmental contaminants. 2002). 2009).. both taxa become important in eco-immunology studies. have been shown to be significantly affected by season.. These differences begin early in development and continue throughout the lifetime of the organism. 2003). cell markers and monoclonal antibodies for use with the amphibian model system Xenopus (Robert and Ohta. By contrast. adding an interesting consideration to ecoimmunology studies. the integument is the first physical barrier between an organism and an invading pathogen. 1998). therefore. reptiles possess both an innate and adaptive immune system. Immune responses can be energetically expensive. Vogel and R. 2000). 2006). antibody titers increase little. immune measurements of the red knot bird (Calidris canutus) varied seasonally but were not affected by temperature (Buehler et al. The immune systems of ectotherms are able to respond across a wide range of temperatures. Reptiles have a thick outer keratin layer. immune responses can be either upregulated or downregulated based on such factors as dose and route of exposure (Fournier et al. and the more robust external shell may limit pathogen exposure in addition to inhibiting water loss. 2003. M. in general. Even if it is conceded that ectotherms need to be included in eco-immunology studies. While in the larval stage. Mondal and Rai. Bowden of changes may differ because of the effect of temperature on immune responses. and any study of the reptile immune response needs to take season into account. These include MHC-defined clones and a variety of cell lines. as we explore the evolution of the vertebrate immune system. including a suite of biotic and abiotic characters that have the potential to affect immunity (e. 2009). the immune system of amphibians develops quickly due to antigen encounters very early in development (Du Pasquier et al. A. By contrast. 2000). Zimmerman. 2001. The immune strategy employed to combat a pathogen is determined in part by the route and duration of exposure to the pathogen (Coico et al. 2004. In many cases the responses are stronger than those of mammals. Another area that has great potential is the investigation of immune function in natural populations. 2000. In adult vertebrates. 2007). and studies of the cell-mediated and humoral responses have been generally hampered by a lack of appropriate reagents.. While variation exists within each taxonomic group.. Like all jawed vertebrates. temperature).. amphibians and reptiles. and this may manifest itself in how these groups allocate resources to innate versus adaptive immune compartments. Much less is known about the adaptive branch. Terrestrial development would probably expose embryos to different potential pathogens. During metamorphosis. The slower adaptive response of ectothermic vertebrates may affect the strategy of immune defense deployed by the reptile. so differences in life history may affect the type of immune strategy employed. Merchant and Britton. the integument of amphibians is more permeable and glandular (Gibbons et al. and the immune responses in general.. Animals that are constrained to maintaining their body temperature physiologically (i. such as growth and reproduction (Martin et al. Here we have reviewed what is currently known about the reptilian immune system. which acts as a very effective barrier to invasion by microbes (Origgi. And indeed. reptiles and amphibians face different pressures and costs. Conclusions Despite reptiles’ key place in evolutionary history. as well as provide significant information to the growing field of eco-immunology. Raffel et al. typical of amniotes. 2006. of reptiles. The shells of amphibian eggs are composed of a gelatinous membrane whereas reptile eggs typically contain a calcified shell and are more durable (Gibbons et al.. pathogen prevalence in ectotherms can be affected through a combination of temperature-induced fluctuations in host physiology as well as temperature effects on the pathogen life cycle (Jackson and Tinsley. which is believed to occur in order to avoid recognition of adult-specific molecules (Rollins-Smith.. pollutants.668 L. and several studies in birds and mammals have identified trade-offs between the immune system and other costly physiological processes. Life-history differences between amphibians and reptiles may also influence immune responses.. if at all....

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