Early developmental exposures shape trade-offs between acquired and innate immunity in humans

Alexander V. Georgiev*, Christopher W. Kuzawa, Thomas W. McDade

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background and objectives: Life history theory predicts resource allocation trade-offs between competing functions and processes. We test the hypothesis that relative investment towards innate versus acquired immunity in humans is subject to such trade-offs and that three types of early developmental exposures are particularly salient in shaping adult immunophenotype: (i) pathogen exposure, (ii) nutritional resources; and (iii) extrinsic mortality cues. Methodology: We quantified one aspect each of innate and acquired immune function, via C-reactive protein and Epstein-Barr virus antibodies, respectively, in a sample of 1248 men and women from the Philippines (ca. 21.5 years old). Early developmental exposures were assessed via long-term data collected prospectively since participants' birth (1983-4). We calculated a standardized ratio to assess relative bias towards acquired versus innate immune function and examined its relationship to a suite of predictors via multiple regression. Results: In partial support of our predictions, some of the measures of higher pathogen exposure, greater availability of nutritional resources, and lower extrinsic mortality cues in early life were associated with a bias toward acquired immunity in both men and women. The immune profile of women, in particular, appeared to be more sensitive to early life pathogen exposures than those of men. Finally, contrary to prediction, women exhibited a greater relative investment toward innate, not acquired, immunity. Conclusions and implications: Early environments can exert considerable influence on the development of immunity. They affect trade-offs between innate and acquired immunity, which show adaptive plasticity and may differ in their influence in men and women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)256-269
Number of pages14
JournalEvolution, Medicine and Public Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • C-reactive protein
  • Ecoimmunology
  • Epstein-Barr virus antibodies
  • Innate immunity
  • Life history theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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