Immune response to fleas in a wild desert rodent: effect of parasite species, parasite burden, sex of host and host parasitological experience Academic Article uri icon


  • We studied immune responses of the jird Meriones crassus to different flea species belonging to the same family. We used jirds maintained in an outdoor enclosure (enclosure; N=18) and parasitized by fleas Xenopsylla conformis mycerini and Xenopsylla ramesis, and also jirds born in the laboratory to previously parasitized mothers (laboratory animals; N=23). We asked (i) whether cross-immunity to different fleas occurs, (ii) whether there is a sex difference in immune responses to flea parasitism and (iii) whether the severity of the immune responses depends on parasite load. In the enclosure animals, immune response to antigen from the unfamiliar flea Synosternus cleopatrae pyramidis did not differ from those to antigens from the familiar fleas. In contrast, laboratory rodents demonstrated no difference in the immune response between S. c. pyramidis antigen and either the phytohemagglutinin treatment or controls, although their responses to antigens of fleas familiar to their mothers (X. c. mycerini and X. ramesis) were significantly higher than those to antigen of S. c. pyramidis and phytohemagglutinin. The results clearly demonstrated that (i) cross-reactivity in rodent responses to different flea species occurred for enclosure but not for laboratory jirds and (ii) immune-na├»ve animals whose mothers were parasitized by fleas had some degree of immunity against fleas. The only sex difference in immunological parameters was the higher level of circulating immune complexes in females than in males. Only phagocytic activity was affected by flea burden, decreasing with an increase in flea numbers.

publication date

  • July 15, 2004