Virus evolution within patients increases pathogenicity

Yoh Iwasa, Franziska Michor, Martin A. Nowak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Viruses like the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the hepatitis B virus (HBV), the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and many others undergo numerous rounds of inaccurate reproduction within an infected host. The resulting viral quasispecies is heterogeneous and sensitive to any selection pressure. Here we extend earlier work by showing that for a wide class of models describing the interaction between the virus population and the immune system, virus evolution has a well-defined direction toward increased pathogenicity. In particular, we study virus-induced impairment of the immune response and certain cross-reactive stimulation of specific immune responses. For eight different mathematical models, we show that virus evolution reduces the equilibrium abundance of uninfected cells and increases the rate at which uninfected cells are infected. Thus, in general, virus evolution makes things worse. An idea for combating HIV infection, however, is constructing a virus mutant that could outcompete the existing infection without being pathogenic itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-26
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 7 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modelling and Simulation
  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Applied Mathematics


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