Modelling the effects of phylogeny and body size on within-host pathogen replication and immune response

Understanding how quickly pathogens replicate and how quickly the immune system responds is important for predicting the epidemic spread of emerging pathogens. Host body size, through its correlation with metabolic rates, is theoretically predicted to impact pathogen replication rates and immune system response rates. Here, we use mathematical models of viral time courses from multiple species of birds infected by a generalist pathogen (West Nile Virus; WNV) to test more thoroughly how disease progression and immune response depend on mass and host phylogeny. We use hierarchical Bayesian models coupled with nonlinear dynamical models of disease dynamics to incorporate the hierarchical nature of host phylogeny. Our analysis suggests an important role for both host phylogeny and species mass in determining factors important for viral spread such as the basic reproductive number, WNV production rate, peak viraemia in blood and competency of a host to infect mosquitoes. Our model is based on a principled analysis and gives a quantitative prediction for key epidemiological determinants and how they vary with species mass and phylogeny. This leads to new hypotheses about the mechanisms that cause certain taxonomic groups to have higher viraemia. For example, our models suggest that higher viral burst sizes cause corvids to have higher levels of viraemia and that the cellular rate of virus production is lower in larger species. We derive a metric of competency of a host to infect disease vectors and thereby sustain the disease between hosts. This suggests that smaller passerine species are highly competent at spreading the disease compared with larger non-passerine species. Our models lend mechanistic insight into why some species (smaller passerine species) are pathogen reservoirs and some (larger non-passerine species) are potentially dead-end hosts for WNV. Our techniques give insights into the role of body mass and host phylogeny in the spread of WNV and potentially other zoonotic diseases. The major contribution of this work is a computational framework for infectious disease modelling at the within-host level that leverages data from multiple species. This is likely to be of interest to modellers of infectious diseases that jump species barriers and infect multiple species. Our method can be used to computationally determine the competency of a host to infect mosquitoes that will sustain WNV and other zoonotic diseases. We find that smaller passerine species are more competent in spreading the disease than larger non-passerine species. This suggests the role of host phylogeny as an important determinant of within-host pathogen replication. Ultimately, we view our work as an important step in linking within-host viral dynamics models to between-host models that determine spread of infectious disease between different hosts.


Modelling the effects of phylogeny and body size on within-host pathogen replication and immune response
Soumya Banerjee, Alan S. Perelson, Melanie Moses
Published 15 November 2017.DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2017.0479