Phenotypic differences in viral immune escape explained by linking within-host dynamics to host-population immunity

K. M. Pepin, I. Volkov, J. R. Banavar, C. O. Wilke, B. T. Grenfell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Viruses that do not cause life-long immunity persist by evolving rapidly in response to prevailing host immunity. The immune-escape mutants emerge frequently, displacing or co-circulating with native strains even though mutations conferring immune evasion are often detrimental to viral replication. The epidemiological dynamics of immune-escape in acute-infection viruses with high transmissibility have been interpreted mainly through immunity dynamics at the host population level, despite the fact that immune-escape evolution involves dynamical processes that feedback across the within- and between-host scales. To address this gap, we use a nested model of within- and between-host infection dynamics to examine how the interaction of viral replication rate and cross-immunity imprint host population immunity, which in turn determines viral immune escape. Our explicit consideration of direct and immune-mediated competitive interactions between strains within-hosts revealed three insights pertaining to risk and control of viral immune-escape: (1) replication rate and immune-stimulation deficiencies (i.e., original antigenic sin) act synergistically to increase immune escape, (2) immune-escape mutants with replication deficiencies relative to their wildtype progenitor are most successful under moderate cross-immunity and frequent re-infections, and (3) the immunity profile along short host-transmission chains (local host-network structure) is a key determinant of immune escape.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)501-510
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Applied Mathematics
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation


  • Adaptive immunity
  • Competition
  • Cross-immunity
  • Original antigenic sin
  • Within-host dynamics


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