The implications of immunopathology for parasite evolution

Alex Best, G Long, Andrew White, Mike Boots

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


By definition, parasites harm their hosts, but in many infections much of the pathology is driven by the host immune response rather than through direct damage inflicted by parasites. While these immunopathological effects are often well studied and understood mechanistically in individual disease interactions, there remains relatively little understanding of their broader impact on the evolution of parasites and their hosts. Here, we theoretically investigate the implications of immunopathology, broadly defined as additional mortality associated with the host's immune response, on parasite evolution. In particular, we examine how immunopathology acting on different epidemiological traits (namely transmission, virulence and recovery) affects the evolution of disease severity. When immunopathology is costly to parasites, such that it reduces their fitness, for example by decreasing transmission, there is always selection for increased disease severity. However, we highlight a number of host-parasite interactions where the parasite may benefit from immunopathology, and highlight scenarios that may lead to the evolution of slower growing parasites and potentially reduced disease severity. Importantly, we find that conclusions on disease severity are highly dependent on how severity is measured. Finally, we discuss the effect of treatments used to combat disease symptoms caused by immunopathology.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1741
Pages (from-to)3234-3240
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Early online date2 May 2012
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012


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