Bet-hedging in innate and adaptive immune systems

Ann T. Tate, Jeremy Van Cleve

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Immune system evolution is shaped by the fitness costs and trade-offs associated with mounting an immune response. Costs that arise mainly as a function of the magnitude of investment, including energetic and immunopathological costs, are well-represented in studies of immune system evolution. Less well considered, however, are the costs of immune cell plasticity and specialization. Hosts in nature encounter a large diversity of microbes and parasites that require different and sometimes conflicting immune mechanisms for defense, but it takes precious time to recognize and correctly integrate signals for an effective polarized response. In this perspective, we propose that bet-hedging can be a viable alternative to plasticity in immune cell effector function, discuss conditions under which bet-hedging is likely to be an advantageous strategy for different arms of the immune system, and present cases from both innate and adaptive immune systems that suggest bet-hedging at play.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)256-265
Number of pages10
JournalEvolution, Medicine and Public Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Foundation for Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health.


  • B cells
  • T cells
  • adaptive immunity
  • evolutionary medicine
  • immune system evolution
  • innate immunity
  • macrophages
  • plasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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