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Am Nat. 2008 Dec;172(6):E244-56. doi: 10.1086/592404.

Acute or chronic? Within-host models with immune dynamics, infection outcome, and parasite evolution.

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  • 1Ecole Normale Supérieure, Unité Mixte de Recherche 7625 Fonctionnement et Evolution des Systèmes Ecologiques, Paris F-75005, France.


There is ample theoretical and experimental evidence that virulence evolution depends on the immune response of the host. In this article, we review a number of recent studies that attempt to explicitly incorporate the dynamics of the immune system (instead of merely representing it by a single black box parameter) in models for the evolution of parasite virulence. A striking observation is that the type of infection (acute or chronic) is invariably considered to be a constraint that model assumptions have to satisfy rather than as a potential outcome of the interaction of the parasite with its host's immune system. We argue that avoiding making assumptions about the type of infection will lead to a better understanding of infectious diseases, even though a number of fundamental and technical problems remain. Dynamical modeling of the immune system opens a wide range of perspectives: for understanding how the immune system eradicates a parasite (which it does for most pathogens but not for all, HIV being a notorious example of a virus that is not completely eliminated), for studying multiple infections through concomitant immunity, for understanding the emergence and evolution of the immune system in animals, and for evolutionary epidemiology in general (e.g., predicting evolutionary consequences of new therapies and public health policies). We conclude by discussing new approaches based on embedded (or nested) models and identify future perspectives for the modeling of infectious diseases.

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