Protection Generated by Prior Exposure to Pathogens Depends on both Priming and Challenge Dose

Chava L. Weitzman, Guadalupe Ceja, Ariel E. Leon, Dana M. Hawley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Free-living hosts encounter pathogens at a wide range of frequencies and concentrations, including low doses that are largely aclinical, creating a varied landscape of exposure history and reinfection likelihood. While several studies show that higher priming doses result in stronger immunological protection against reinfection, it remains unknown how the reinfection challenge dose and priming dose interact to determine the likelihood and severity of reinfection. We manipulated both priming and challenge doses of Mycoplasma gallisepticum, which causes mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, in captive house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus), to assess reinfection probability and severity. We found a significant interaction between priming and challenge doses on reinfection probability, with the likelihood of reinfection by a high but not a low challenge dose decreasing exponentially at higher priming doses. While this interaction was likely driven by lower average infection probabilities for low-dose versus high-dose challenges, even the highest priming dose provided only negligible protection against reinfection from low-dose challenges. Similarly, pathogen loads during reinfection were significantly reduced with increasing priming doses only for birds reinfected at high but not low doses. We hypothesize that these interactions arise to some degree from fundamental differences in host immune responses across doses, with single low doses only weakly triggering host immune responses. Importantly, our results also demonstrate that reinfections can occur from a variety of exposure doses and across diverse degrees of standing immunity in this system. Overall, our study highlights the importance of considering both initial and subsequent exposure doses where repeated exposure to a pathogen is common in nature.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00537-21
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalInfection and Immunity
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


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