"It seems that the mothers in our study are priming offspring for the environment they will live in. When the risk of disease is high, improved immunity may outweigh any costs associated with reduced social dominance." said Dr Olivia Curno, who led the research funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
"It is unlikely that mice are the only species with this fascinating ability. Therefore our work may have important implications for our understanding of epidemiological processes and individual disease susceptibility in general. Future investigation should explore exactly how the females detect disease in their neighbours and use this information so cleverly."
The finding that mice show a stress response to other infected mice in the room suggests that the welfare of bystander animals should be considered when planning experimental work. Perhaps most importantly, the results begin to question the accuracy of the many experimental set-ups where co-housed control animals are considered "untreated", when in fact they may be responding in complex physiological and behavioural ways to their treated neighbours.
|Contact: Dr. Olivia Curno|
University of Nottingham