Host modulation of parasite competition in multiple infections

Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Aug 7;279(1740):2982-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.0474. Epub 2012 Apr 4.


Parasite diversity is a constant challenge to host immune systems and has important clinical implications, but factors underpinning its emergence and maintenance are still poorly understood. Hosts typically harbour multiple parasite genotypes that share both host resources and immune responses. Parasite diversity is thus shaped not only by resource competition between co-infecting parasites but also by host-driven immune-mediated competition. We investigated these effects in an insect-trypanosome system, combining in vivo and in vitro single and double inoculations. In vivo, a non-pathogenic, general immune challenge was used to manipulate host immune condition and resulted in a reduced ability of hosts to defend against a subsequent exposure to the trypanosome parasites, illustrating the costs of immune activation. The associated increase in available host space benefited the weaker parasite strains of each pair as much as the otherwise more competitive strains, resulting in more frequent multiple infections in immune-challenged hosts. In vitro assays showed that in the absence of a host, overall parasite diversity was minimal because the outcome of competition was virtually fixed and resulted in strain extinction. Altogether, this shows that parasite competition is largely host-mediated and suggests a role for host immune condition in the maintenance of parasite diversity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthrobacter / physiology
  • Bees / immunology*
  • Bees / parasitology*
  • Coinfection / immunology
  • Coinfection / parasitology*
  • Competitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Crithidia / classification
  • Crithidia / genetics
  • Crithidia / pathogenicity*
  • Escherichia coli / physiology
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / immunology*