The present review discusses the communication between the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonad (HPG) axis and the immune system of vertebrates, attempting to situate the HPG-immune interaction into the context of life history trade-offs between reproductive and immune functions. More specifically, (i) we review molecular and cellular interactions between hormones of the HPG axis, and, as far as known, the involved mechanisms on immune functions, (ii) we evaluate whether the HPG-immune crosstalk serves as proximate mechanism mediating reproductive-immune trade-offs, and (iii) we ask whether the nature of the HPG-immune interaction is conserved throughout vertebrate evolution, despite the changes in immune functions, reproductive modes, and life histories. In all vertebrate classes studied so far, HPG hormones have immunomodulatory functions, and indications exist that they contribute to reproduction-immunity resource trade-offs, although the very limited information available for most non-mammalian vertebrates makes it difficult to judge how comparable or different the interactions are. There is good evidence that the HPG-immune crosstalk is part of the proximate mechanisms underlying the reproductive-immune trade-offs of vertebrates, but it is only one factor in a complex network of factors and processes. The fact that the HPG-immune interaction is flexible and can adapt to the functional and physiological requirements of specific life histories. Moreover, the assumption of a relatively fixed pattern of HPG influence on immune functions, with, for example, androgens always leading to immunosuppression and estrogens always being immunoprotective, is probably oversimplified, but the HPG-immune interaction can vary depending on the physiological and envoironmental context. Finally, the HPG-immune interaction is not only driven by resource trade-offs, but additional factors such as, for instance, the evolution of viviparity shape this neuroendocrine-immune relationship.
- Hypothalamus-pituitary-gonad axis
- Life history