Within-host models of infection can provide important insights into the processes that affect parasite spread and persistence in host populations. However, modeling can be limited by the availability of empirical data, a problem commonly encountered in natural systems. Here, we used six years of immune-infection observations of two gastrointestinal helminths (Trichostrongylus retortaeformis and Graphidium strigosum) from a population of European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) to develop an age-dependent, mathematical model that explicitly included species-specific and cross-reacting antibody (IgA and IgG) responses to each helminth in hosts with single or dual infections. Different models of single infection were formally compared to test alternative mechanisms of parasite regulation. The two models that best described single infections of each helminth species were then coupled through antibody cross-immunity to examine how the presence of one species could alter the host immune response to, and the within-host dynamics of, the other species. For both single infections, model selection suggested that either IgA or IgG responses could equally explain the observed parasite intensities by host age. However, the antibody attack rate and affinity level changed between the two helminths, it was stronger against T. retortaeformis than against G. strigosum and caused contrasting age-intensity profiles. When the two helminths coinfect the same host, we found variation of the species-specific antibody response to both species together with an asymmetric cross-immune response driven by IgG. Lower attack rate and affinity of antibodies in dual than single infections contributed to the significant increase of both helminth intensities. By combining mathematical modeling with immuno-infection data, our work provides a tractable model framework for disentangling some of the complexities generated by host-parasite and parasite–parasite interactions in natural systems.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Statistics and Probability
- Modeling and Simulation
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
- General Immunology and Microbiology
- General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
- Applied Mathematics