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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1999 Apr 29;354(1384):711-9.

The effects of host heterogeneity on pathogen population structure.

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  • 1Wellcome Trust Centre for the Epidemiology of Infectious Disease, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK.


We have shown that among pathogens, populations may self-organize into strains with non-overlapping repertoires of antigenic variants as a consequence of strong immune selection operating on polymorphic antigens. Recently, we have also demonstrated that over a wide range of intermediate levels of immune selection, pathogens may still be structured into discrete strains, but different sets of non-overlapping pathogen types will replace each other in a cyclical or chaotic manner. These models assume that the ranking of antigens in terms of the strength of the induced immune response is the same for every host. However, host immune responses may be restricted by the genotype of the individual. To explore this issue, a mathematical model was constructed under the assumption that a proportion of the host population responds principally to a variable antigen while the remainder of the population responds principally to a conserved antigen. The results of this analysis indicate that discrete strain structure (DSS) will be maintained even with a high frequency of hosts that do not respond in a variant-specific manner. Furthermore, the range of the immune selection pressure over which DSS prevails is increased (and the region of cyclical or chaotic behaviour reduced) by the inclusion of hosts that respond in a cross-reactive rather than a variant-specific manner.

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