The allometry of host-pathogen interactions

Jessica M. Cable, Brian J. Enquist, Melanie E. Moses

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Background. Understanding the mechanisms that control rates of disease progression in humans and other species is an important area of research relevant to epidemiology and to translating studies in small laboratory animals to humans. Body size and metabolic rate influence a great number of biological rates and times. We hypothesize that body size and metabolic rate affect rates of pathogenesis, specifically the times between infection and first symptoms or death. Methods and Principal Findings. We conducted al literature search to find estimates of the time from infection to first symptoms (tS) and to death (tD) for five pathogens infecting a variety of bird and mammal hosts. A broad sampling of diseases (1 bacterial, 1 prion, 3 viruses) indicates that pathogenesis is controlled by the scaling of host metabolism. We find that the time for symptoms to appear is a constant fraction of time to death in all but one disease. Our findings also predict that many population-level attributes of disease dynamics are likely to be expressed as dimensionless quantities that are independent of host body size. Conclusions and Significanae. Our results show that much variability in host pathogenesis can be described by simple power functions consistent with the scaling of host metabolic rate. Assessing how disease progression is controlled by geometric relationships will be important for future research. To our knowledge this is the first study to report the allometric scaling of host/pathogen interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1130
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 7 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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