Dynamics of multiple infection and within-host competition in genetically diverse malaria infections

Jacobus C. De Roode, Michelle E.H. Helinski, M. Ali Anwar, Andrew F. Read

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

174 Scopus citations


Within-host competition between coinfecting parasite strains shapes the evolution of parasite phenotypes such as virulence and drug resistance. Although this evolution has a strong theoretical basis, within-host competition has rarely been studied experimentally, particularly in medically relevant pathogens with hosts that have pronounced specific and nonspecific immune responses against co-infecting strains. We investigated multiple infection in malaria, using two pairs of genetically distinct clones of the rodent malaria Plasmodium chabaudi in mice. Clones were inoculated into mice simultaneously or 3 or 11 days apart, and population sizes were tracked using immunofluorescence or quantitative polymerase chain reaction. In all experiments, at least one of the two clones suffered strong competitive suppression, probably through both resource- and immune-mediated (apparent) competition. Clones differed in intrinsic competitive ability, but prior residency was also an important determinant of competitive outcome. When clones infected mice first, they did not suffer from competition, but they did when infecting mice at the same time or after their competitor, more so the later they infected their host. Consequently, clones that are competitively inferior in head-to-head competition can be competitively superior if they infect hosts first. These results are discussed in the light of strain-specific immunity, drug resistance, and virulence evolution theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)531-542
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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