Within-host competition between Borrelia afzelii ospC strains in wild hosts as revealed by massively parallel amplicon sequencing.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Infections frequently consist of more than one strain of a given pathogen. Experiments have shown that co-infecting strains often compete, so that the infection intensity of each strain in mixed infections is lower than in single strain infections. Such within-host competition can have important epidemiological and evolutionary consequences. However, the extent of competition has rarely been investigated in wild, naturally infected hosts, where there is noise in the form of varying inoculation doses, asynchronous infections and host heterogeneity, which can potentially alleviate or eliminate competition. Here, we investigated the extent of competition between Borrelia afzelii strains (as determined by ospC genotype) in three host species sampled in the wild. For this purpose, we developed a protocol for 454 amplicon sequencing of ospC, which allows both detection and quantification of each individual strain in an infection. Each host individual was infected with one to six ospC strains. The infection intensity of each strain was lower in mixed infections than in single ones, showing that there was competition. Rank-abundance plots revealed that there was typically one dominant strain, but that the evenness of the relative infection intensity of the different strains in an infection increased with the multiplicity of infection. We conclude that within-host competition can play an important role under natural conditions despite many potential sources of noise, and that quantification by next-generation amplicon sequencing offers new possibilities to dissect within-host interactions in naturally infected hosts.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Immunology


  • mixed infections, Borrelia afzelii ospC, virulence, within-host, competition
Original languageEnglish
Article number20140293
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1675
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Publication categoryResearch

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