The contribution of host cell-directed vs. Parasite-directed immunity to the disease and dynamics of malaria infections

Nina Wale, Matthew J. Jones, Derek G. Sim, Andrew F. Read, Aaron A. King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Hosts defend themselves against pathogens by mounting an immune response. Fully understanding the immune response as a driver of host disease and pathogen evolution requires a quantitative account of its impact on parasite population dynamics. Here, we use a data-driven modeling approach to quantify the birth and death processes underlying the dynamics of infections of the rodent malaria parasite, Plasmodium chabaudi, and the red blood cells (RBCs) it targets. We decompose the immune response into 3 components, each with a distinct effect on parasite and RBC vital rates, and quantify the relative contribution of each component to host disease and parasite density. Our analysis suggests that these components are deployed in a coordinated fashion to realize distinct resource-directed defense strategies that complement the killing of parasitized cells. Early in the infection, the host deploys a strategy reminiscent of siege and scorched-earth tactics, in which it both destroys RBCs and restricts their supply. Late in the infection, a “juvenilization” strategy, in which turnover of RBCs is accelerated, allows the host to recover from anemia while holding parasite proliferation at bay. By quantifying the impact of immunity on both parasite fitness and host disease, we reveal that phenomena often interpreted as immunopathology may in fact be beneficial to the host. Finally, we show that, across mice, the components of the host response are consistently related to each other, even when infections take qualitatively different trajectories. This suggests the existence of simple rules that govern the immune system's deployment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)22386-22392
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
StatePublished - Oct 29 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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