Co-evolution between Hosts and Infectious Disease Agents and its Effects on Virulence

  • A. C. Allison
Part of the Dahlem Workshop Reports book series (DAHLEM, volume 25)


Protozoan parasites have evolved several mechanisms to overcome vertebrate host defenses. These include intracellular location, antigenic variation, antigen-specific immunosuppression, and nonspecific immunosuppression. In response to the challenge of infectious diseases, mammalian hosts have developed several mechanisms for limiting parasitic infections. Some of these are conventional immune responses, involving the formation of specific antibodies, T-lymphocytes that can kill infected cells, and T-lymphocytes that can activate macrophages in such a way that they limit the multiplication of parasites. Other mechanisms of resistance have also evolved, including inherited variations in hemoglobin and erythrocyte enzymes and structure that can limit their capacity to support parasite replication. As a result of selection through parasitic disease, stable polymorphisms have developed.

The transmission of parasites by arthropods introduces a further level of complexity and necessity for co-evolution of the parasites and both hosts, ensuring the survival of all of them in nature. When hosts and parasites have lived together for a long time, as in the case of African parasites and wild animals, the hosts have developed efficient mechanisms of resistance and the infections are of low virulence. When the time of coexistence is intermediate, as in the case of indigenous domestic livestock, the same parasites produce infections of intermediate virulence, whereas in newly introduced hosts they produce highly virulent infections. Such graded responses strongly suggest that co-evolution can result in attenuated infections.


Falciparum Malaria Antigenic Variation Vertebrate Host Trypanosoma Brucei Rodent Malaria 
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Copyright information

© D. Bernhard, Dahlem Konferenzen, Berlin 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. C. Allison
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Biological SciencesSyntex ResearchPalo AltoUSA

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