Within-host selection is limited by an effective population of Streptococcus pneumoniae during nasopharyngeal colonization

Infect Immun. 2013 Dec;81(12):4534-43. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00527-13. Epub 2013 Sep 30.


Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) is a significant pathogen that frequently colonizes the human nasopharynx. Environmental factors, including antimicrobial use and host immunity, exert selection on members of the nasopharyngeal population, and the dynamics of selection are influenced by the effective population size of the selected population, about which little is known. We measured here the variance effective population size (N(e)) of pneumococcus in a mouse colonization model by monitoring the frequency change of two cocolonizing, competitively neutral pneumococcal strains over time. The point estimate of N(e) during nasal carriage in 16 BALB/c mice was 133 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 11 to 203). In contrast, the lower-bound census population exhibited a mean of 5768 (95% CI = 2,515 to 9,021). Therefore, pneumococcal N(e) during nasal carriage is substantially smaller than the census population. The N(e) during day 1 to day 4 of colonization was comparable to the Ne during day 4 to day 8. Similarly, a low Ne was also evident for the colonization of pneumococcus in BALB/c mice exposed to cholera toxin 4 weeks prior to challenge and in another mouse strain (DO11.10 RAG(-/-)). We developed a mathematical model of pneumococcal colonization composed of two subpopulations with differential contribution to future generations. By stochastic simulation, this model can reproduce the pattern of observed pneumococcal N(e) and predicts that the selection coefficients may be difficult to measure in vivo. We hypothesized that such a small N(e) may reduce the effectiveness of within host selection for pneumococcus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Load
  • Cholera Toxin / metabolism
  • Genes, RAG-1 / genetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Nasopharynx / immunology
  • Nasopharynx / microbiology*
  • Pneumococcal Infections / immunology
  • Pneumococcal Infections / microbiology*
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / growth & development*
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae / immunology


  • Cholera Toxin