Parasite strategies for exploiting host resources are key determinants of disease severity (i.e., virulence) and infectiousness (i.e., transmission between hosts). By iterating the development of theory and empirical tests, we investigated whether variation in parasite traits across two genetically distinct clones of the rodent malaria parasite, Plasmodium chabaudi, explains differences in within-host infection dynamics and virulence. First, we experimentally tested key predictions of our earlier modeling work. As predicted, the more virulent genotype produced more progeny parasites per infected cell (burst size), but in contrast to predictions, invasion rates of red blood cells (RBCs) did not differ between the genotypes studied. Second, we further developed theory by confronting our earlier model with these new data, testing a new set of models that incorporate more biological realism, and developing novel theoretical tools for identifying differences between parasite genotypes. Overall, we found robust evidence that differences in burst sizes contribute to variation in dynamics and that differential interactions between parasites and host immune responses also play a role. In contrast to previous work, our model predicts that RBC age structure is not important for explaining dynamics. Integrating theory and empirical tests is a potentially powerful way of progressing understanding of disease biology.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics