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Biophys Rev. 2010 Aug;2(3):111-120. Epub 2010 Aug 10.

Population dynamics of a pathogen: the conundrum of vivax malaria.

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Mathematical and Statistical Computing Laboratory, Division of Computational Bioscience, Center for Information Technology, National Institutes of Health, 12 South Drive, Bethesda, MD 20892-5620 USA.


Building a mathematical model of population dynamics of pathogens within their host involves considerations of factors similar to those in ecology, as pathogens can prey on cells in the host. But within the multicellular host, attacked cell types are integrated with other cellular systems, which in turn intervene in the infection. For example, immune responses attempt to sense and then eliminate or contain pathogens, and homeostatic mechanisms try to compensate for cell loss. This review focuses on modeling applied to malarias, diseases caused by single-cell eukaryote parasites that infect red blood cells, with special concern given to vivax malaria, a disease often thought to be benign (if sometimes incapacitating) because the parasite only attacks a small proportion of red blood cells, the very youngest ones. However, I will use mathematical modeling to argue that depletion of this pool of red blood cells can be disastrous to the host if growth of the parasite is not vigorously check by host immune responses. Also, modeling can elucidate aspects of new field observations that indicate that vivax malaria is more dangerous than previously thought. ELECTRONIC SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIAL: The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s12551-010-0034-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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