Responsiveness of fecal immunoglobulin A to HPA-axis activation limits its use for mucosal immunity assessment
The assessment of mucosal immunity as a component of animal health is an important aspect for the understanding of variation in host immunity, and its tradeoff against other life-history traits. We investigated immunoglobulin A (IgA), the major type of antibody associated with mucosal immunity, in relation to changes in parasitic burden following anthelminthic treatment in noninvasively collected fecal samples in a semi-free ranging group of Barbary macaques (Macaca sylvanus). We measured IgA in 340 fecal samples of fourteen females and nine males. As IgA has been found to be responsive to stressors, we also related fecal IgA (fIgA) levels to fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (fGCM) measured in the same samples as part of a previous study. We found a high variability within and between individual fIgA levels over time. Running generalized additive mixed models, we found that fIgA levels were higher in males than in females, but did not change in response to the anthelmintic treatment and the resulting reduction in worm burden. Instead, fIgA level changes were significantly correlated to changes in fGCM levels. Our findings indicate that due to the strong responsiveness of fIgA to HPA-axis activity, the measurement of fIgA may have certain limitations with respect to reflecting gastrointestinal parasitic burden. Moreover, the responsiveness of fIgA to stressors interferes with the interpretation of IgA levels in fecal samples as a measure of mucosal immunity, at least in our study population of the Barbary macaques.