Natural antibodies (NAb) are defined as antibodies present in individuals without known antigenic challenge. Levels of NAb binding keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) in chickens were earlier shown to be heritable, and to be associated with survival. Selective breeding may thus provide a strategy to improve natural disease resistance. We phenotyped 3,689 white purebred laying chickens for KLH binding NAb of different isotypes around 16 weeks of age. Heritabilities of 0.12 for the titers of total antibodies (IgT), 0.14 for IgM, 0.10 for IgA, and 0.07 for IgG were estimated. We also estimated high, positive genetic, and moderate to high, positive phenotypic correlations of IgT, IgM, IgA, and IgG, suggesting that selective breeding for NAb can be done on all antibody isotypes simultaneously. In addition, a relatively substantial non-genetic maternal environmental effect of 0.06 was detected for IgM, which may reflect a transgenerational effect. This suggests that not only the genes of the mother, but also the maternal environment affects the immune system of the offspring. Breaking strength and early eggshell whiteness of the mother’s eggs were predictive for IgM levels in the offspring, and partly explained the observed maternal environmental effects. The present results confirm that NAb are heritable, however maternal effects should be taken into account.
- laying hens