Dynamic regulation of single- and mixed-species malaria infection: insights to specific and non-specific mechanisms of control.
Recrudescing Plasmodium falciparum parasitaemia is attributed to the switching of PfEMP1, a variant antigen family encoded by the var gene repertoire, and the host's immune response. We have developed a mathematical model which incorporates var gene switching, and variant specific, non-variant specific and non-specific immunity. By conducting a sensitivity analysis of the model we have defined the parameter limits which produce chronic and recrudescing infections. We explore 3 switching mechanisms: ordered, random and uncoupled switching. We show that if var genes switch on and off independently at variable rates through the repertoire a chronic clinical infection is predicted. The fastest switching-on rate that produces a chronic infection is 0.03% per generation. The model predicts that non-variant specific immunity plays an important role in reducing disease severity. This work illustrates the complex relationship between the malaria parasite and its host and shows that var gene switching at rates substantially slower than 2% are essential for parasite survival.