Relative maturity and the development of immunity to gastrointestinal nematodes in sheep: an overlooked paradigm?

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Sheep display considerable variation in both the timing and magnitude of development of immunity to gastrointestinal nematodes (GIN). Onset of immunity is dependent on a number of factors, including antigenic stimulus, nutrition supply, age and size of the animals, the latter of which are confounded. Here, we review the factors associated with the development of immunity to GIN in sheep, particularly in the context of the role that relative maturity may have through applying the rules of genetic size scaling based on examples from published literature. Comparing animals based on their metabolic age, rather than chronological age, may provide an explanation for the timing of immune development and may reduce the variation in immune development that frequently is observed both between and within breeds. Further, this approach may help explain the phenotypic differences in animal performance between animals of varying immunological capacity to GIN through influences on mature body weight. As such, when considering factors influencing immune development to GIN, physiological age or relative maturity may be considered an overlooked paradigm. We propose it may be worthwhile to consider metabolic age when comparing the immune competence of animals to ensure the subjects are at an analogous stage of physiological development.

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