Many animals use carotenoid pigments to color their integument and become sexually attractive. These colorants can also serve physiological functions, protecting cells and tissues from oxidative damage as well as stimulating the immune system. Because animals often acquire several different carotenoid pigments from their diet, there is the potential for different carotenoids to exhibit different free-radical-scavenging or immunoenhancing activity. We experimentally tested how two common dietary xanthophylls - lutein and zeaxanthin - may differentially affect the immune system in male zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Male T. guttata derive their red sexual beak colorants from these two carotenoids, and prior studies with this species have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin together boost cell-mediated immunity. We experimentally elevated these two dietary carotenoids separately in two groups of non-breeding zebra finches, but found that lutein-supplemented and zeaxanthin-supplemented males mounted similar cell-mediated immune responses (to phytohaemagglutinin, or PHA). Although zeaxanthin is a more conjugated carotenoid than lutein and has the potential to be a more potent antioxidant, our study suggests that such a subtle structural difference between these two biochemicals does not differentially affect immune performance in this songbird.
- Carotenoid pigments
- Cell-mediated immunity
- Taeniopygia guttata
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics