Trans-generational immune priming is not mediated by the sex of the parent primed: a meta-analysis of invertebrate data

Nicola-Anne J. Rutkowski, Kathryn B. McNamara, Theresa M. Jones, Yong Zhi Foo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Traditionally, only vertebrates were thought capable of acquired immune responses, such as the ability to transfer immunological experience vertically to their offspring (known as trans-generational immune priming, TGIP). Increasing evidence challenges this belief and it is now clear that invertebrates also have the ability to exhibit functionally equivalent TGIP. This has led to a surge in papers exploring invertebrate TGIP, with most focusing on the costs, benefits or factors that affect the evolution of this trait. Whilst many studies have found support for the phenomenon, not all studies do, and there is considerable variation in the strength of positive results. To address this, we conducted a meta-analysis to answer the question: what is the overall effect of TGIP in invertebrates? Then, to understand the specific factors that affect its presence and intensity, we conducted a moderator analysis. Our results corroborate that TGIP occurs in invertebrates (demonstrated by a large, positive effect size). The strength of the positive effect was related to if and how offspring were immune challenged (i.e. whether they were challenged with the same or different insult as their parents or not challenged at all). Interestingly, there was no effect of the ecology or life history of the species or the sex of the parent or the offspring primed, and responses were comparable across different immune elicitors. Our publication bias testing suggests that the literature may suffer from some level of positive-result bias. However, even after accounting for potential bias, our effect size remains positive. Publication bias testing can be influenced by diversity in the data set, which was considerable in our data, even after moderator analysis. It is therefore conceivable that differences among studies could be caused by other moderators that were unable to be included in our meta-analysis. Nonetheless, our results suggest that TGIP does occur in invertebrates, whilst providing some potential avenues to examine the factors that account for variation in effect sizes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1100-1117
Number of pages18
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number4
Early online date6 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


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