Elevated neopterin levels in wild, healthy chimpanzees indicate constant investment in unspecific immune system

Verena Behringer*, Jeroen M.G. Stevens, Roman M. Wittig, Catherine Crockford, Klaus Zuberbühler, Fabian H. Leendertz, Tobias Deschner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Ecological immunology proposes that the optimal immune defence, and the costs coming with it, vary across environments. In environments with higher pathogen load, the immune system should experience greater challenges and, therefore, investment in maintaining it should be higher. The biomarker neopterin allows monitoring of innate immune responses, and is therefore an ideal tool to investigate the effects of ecological variables on the immune system. Here, we compared urinary neopterin levels of apparently healthy chimpanzees without acute symptoms of sickness across two environments: In captivity (22 zoos) and in the wild (two populations).

Results: Our results revealed that urinary neopterin levels were nearly twice as high in wild compared to captive chimpanzees, independent of chimpanzee subspecies.

Conclusion: We conclude that wild chimpanzees experience more frequent immune challenges in comparison to captive individuals. Therefore, wild individuals have to allocate more energy to immune function and away from reproduction and growth. Our data indicate that the generally delayed development of wild animals in comparison to captive individuals might not only be related to lower energy intake but might result from greater energy allocations to immune function. Finally, our data highlight the importance of understanding immune costs for accurate characterization of energy budgets in animals.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Number of pages7
JournalBMC Zoology
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2019


  • Captive and wild living
  • Costs
  • Ecoimmunology
  • Energy allocation
  • Immune response


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