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Journal of Theoretical Biology
Volume 447, 2018, Pages 25-31

Immune system handling time may alter the outcome of competition between pathogens and the immune system

Philip B.Greenspoon, Sydney Banton, Nicole Mideo

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada, M5S 3B2.


Predators may be limited in their ability to kill prey (i.e., have type II or III functional responses), an insight that has had far-reaching consequences in the ecological literature. With few exceptions, however, this possibility has not been extended to the behaviour of immune cells, which kill pathogens much as predators kill their prey. Rather, models of the within-host environment have tended to tacitly assume that immune cells have an unlimited ability to target and kill pathogens (i.e., a type I functional response). Here we explore the effects of changing this assumption on infection outcomes (i.e., pathogen loads). We incorporate immune cell handling time into an ecological model of the within-host environment that considers both the predatory nature of the pathogen-immune cell interaction as well as competition between immune cells and pathogens for host resources. Unless pathogens can preempt immune cells for host resources, adding an immune cell handling time increases equilibrium pathogen load. We find that the shape of the relationship between energy intake and pathogen load can change: with a type I functional response, pathogen load is maximised at intermediate inputs, while for a type II or III functional response, pathogen load is solely increasing. With a type II functional response, pathogen load can fluctuate rather than settling to an equilibrium, a phenomenon unobserved with type I or III functional responses. Our work adds to a growing literature highlighting the role of resource availability in host-parasite interactions. Implications of our results for adaptive anorexia are discussed.

Keywords: Disease ecology, Within-host model, Immunity, Functional response, Handling time, Adaptive anorexia, Pathogens.

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