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Genetics. 2007 Nov;177(3):1777-90. Epub 2007 Oct 18.

Polymorphism in multilocus host parasite coevolutionary interactions.

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Department of Disease and Stress Biology, John Innes Centre, Colney, Norwich, NR4 7UH, United Kingdom.


Numerous loci in host organisms are involved in parasite recognition, such as major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes in vertebrates or genes involved in gene-for-gene (GFG) relationships in plants. Diversity is commonly observed at such loci and at corresponding loci encoding antigenic molecules in parasites. Multilocus theoretical models of host-parasite coevolution predict that polymorphism is more likely than in single-locus interactions because recurrent coevolutionary cycles are sustained by indirect frequency-dependent selection as rare genotypes have a selective advantage. These cycles are stabilized by direct frequency-dependent selection, resulting from repeated reinfection of the same host by a parasite, a feature of most diseases. Here, it is shown that for realistically small costs of resistance and virulence, polycyclic disease and high autoinfection rates, stable polymorphism of all possible genotypes is obtained in parasite populations. Two types of epistatic interactions between loci tend to increase the parameter space in which stable polymorphism can occur with all possible host and parasite genotypes. In the parasite, the marginal cost of each additional virulence allele should increase, while in the host, the marginal cost of each additional resistance allele should decrease. It is therefore predicted that GFG polymorphism will be stable (and hence detectable) when there is partial complementation of avirulence genes in the parasite and of resistance genes in the host.

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