Immune systems provide a key defence against diseases. However, they are not a panacea and so both vertebrates and invertebrates co-opt naturally occurring bioactive compounds to treat themselves against parasites and pathogens. In vertebrates, this co-option is complex, with pharmacodynamics leading to differential effects of treatment at different life stages, which may reflect age-linked differences in the immune system. However, our understanding of pharmacodynamics in invertebrates is almost non-existent. Critically, this knowledge may elucidate broad parallels across animals in regard to the requirement for the co-option of bioactive compounds to ameliorate disease. Here, we used biochanin A, an isoflavone found in the pollen of red clover (Trifolium pratense), to therapeutically treat Nosema bombi (Microsporidia) infection in bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) larvae and adults, and thus examine age-linked pharmacodynamics in an invertebrate. Therapeutic treatment of larvae with biochanin A did not reduce the infection intensity of N. bombi in adults. In contrast, therapeutic treatment of adults did reduce the infection intensity of N. bombi. This transition in parasite resistance to bioactive compounds mirrors the age-linked pharmacodynamics of vertebrates. Understanding how different life-history stages respond to therapeutic compounds will provide novel insights into the evolution of foraging and self-medication behaviour in natural systems more broadly.
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