The evolutionary ecology of circadian rhythms in infection


Biological rhythms coordinate organisms’ activities with daily rhythms in the environment. For parasites, this includes rhythms in both the external abiotic environment and the within-host biotic environment. Hosts exhibit rhythms in behaviours and physiologies, including immune responses, and parasites exhibit rhythms in traits underpinning virulence and transmission. Yet, the evolutionary and ecological drivers of rhythms in traits underpinning host defence and parasite offence are largely unknown. Here, we explore how hosts use rhythms to defend against infection, why parasites have rhythms and whether parasites can manipulate host clocks to their own ends. Harnessing host rhythms or disrupting parasite rhythms could be exploited for clinical benefit; we propose an interdisciplinary effort to drive this emerging field forward.

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We thank the Darwin Trust of Edinburgh (M.L.W.), the National Science Foundation (M.Z.), NERC and BBSRC (NE/K006029/1; S.E.R.), the Royal Society (UF110155; S.E.R.), and the Wellcome Trust (202769/Z/16/Z; S.E.R.) for supporting this work.

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S.E.R. conceived the study, M.L.W. and S.E.R. drafted the manuscript, and all authors provided substantial input into ideas and the writing of subsequent drafts.

Correspondence to Mary L. Westwood.

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