A model for pathogen population structure with cross-protection depending on the extent of overlap in antigenic variant repertoires.
Recker M., Gupta S.
The persistence of discrete antigenic types among pathogens with multiple immunogenic loci can be explained by the action of immune-mediated competition. It has previously been shown that pathogen populations will self-organize into non-overlapping subsets of antigenic variants if cross-protection between pathogen types sharing any variants is high. Here, we examine the critical question of whether such strain structure will emerge if the degree of immune-mediated competition is dependent on the number of variants shared between pathogen types, rather than in an all-or-nothing manner. Our analysis uncovers a progression from no strain structure through to discrete stable strain structure through intermediate partially structured states. This suggests that the number of loci or epitope regions required to detect linkage disequilibrium (as a manifestation of stable discrete strain structure) in pathogen populations correlates inversely with the strength of immune selection.