Contrasting within- and between-host immune selection shapes Neisseria Opa repertoires.
Watkins ER., Grad YH., Gupta S., Buckee CO.
Pathogen evolution is influenced strongly by the host immune response. Previous studies of the effects of herd immunity on the population structure of directly transmitted, short-lived pathogens have primarily focused on the impact of competition for hosts. In contrast, for long-lived infections like HIV, theoretical work has focused on the mechanisms promoting antigenic variation within the host. In reality, successful transmission requires that pathogens balance both within- and between-host immune selection. The Opa adhesins in the bacterial Neisseria genus provide a unique system to study the evolution of the same antigens across two major pathogens: while N. meningitidis is an airborne, respiratory pathogen colonising the nasopharynx relatively transiently, N. gonorrhoeae can cause sexually transmitted, long-lived infections. We use a simple mathematical model and genomic data to show that trade-offs between immune selection pressures within- and between-hosts can explain the contrasting Opa repertoires observed in meningococci and gonococci.