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ABSTRACT: Parasites are known to exert strong selection pressures on their hosts and, as such, favour the evolution of defence mechanisms. The negative impact of parasites on their host can have substantial consequences in terms of population persistence and the epidemiology of the infection. In natural populations, however, it is difficult to assess the cost of infection while controlling for other potentially confounding factors. For instance, individuals are repeatedly exposed to a variety of parasite strains, some of which can elicit immunological memory, further protecting the host from subsequent infections. Cost of infection is, therefore, expected to be particularly strong for primary infections and to decrease for individuals surviving the first infectious episode that are re-exposed to the pathogen. We tested this hypothesis experimentally using avian malaria parasites (Plasmodium relictum-lineage SGS1) and domestic canaries (Serinus canaria) as a model. Hosts were infected with a controlled dose of P. relictum as a primary infection and control birds were injected with non-infected blood. The changes in haematocrit and body mass were monitored during a 20 day period. A protein of the acute phase response (haptoglobin) was assessed as a marker of the inflammatory response mounted in response to the infection. Parasite intensity was also monitored. Surviving birds were then re-infected 37 days post primary infection. In agreement with the predictions, we found that primary infected birds paid a substantially higher cost in terms of infection-induced reduction in haematocrit compared with re-exposed birds. After the secondary infection, re-exposed hosts were also able to clear the infection at a faster rate than after the primary infection. These results have potential consequences for the epidemiology of avian malaria, since birds re-exposed to the pathogen can maintain parasitemia with low fitness costs, allowing the persistence of the pathogen within the host population.
International journal for parasitology 10/2010; 40(12):1447-53. · 3.39 Impact Factor