Semi-infectious particles contribute substantially to influenza virus within-host dynamics when infection is dominated by spatial structure

Alex Farrell, Tin Phan, Christopher B. Brooke, Katia Koelle, Ruian Ke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Influenza is an ribonucleic acid virus with a genome that comprises eight segments. Experiments show that the vast majority of virions fail to express one or more gene segments and thus cannot cause a productive infection on their own. These particles, called semi-infectious particles (SIPs), can induce virion production through complementation when multiple SIPs are present in an infected cell. Previous within-host influenza models did not explicitly consider SIPs and largely ignore the potential effects of coinfection during virus infection. Here, we constructed and analyzed two distinct models explicitly keeping track of SIPs and coinfection: one without spatial structure and the other implicitly considering spatial structure. While the model without spatial structure fails to reproduce key aspects of within-host influenza virus dynamics, we found that the model implicitly considering the spatial structure of the infection process makes predictions that are consistent with biological observations, highlighting the crucial role that spatial structure plays during an influenza infection. This model predicts two phases of viral growth prior to the viral peak: a first phase driven by fully infectious particles at the initiation of infection followed by a second phase largely driven by coinfections of fully infectious particles and SIPs. Fitting this model to two sets of data, we show that SIPs can contribute substantially to viral load during infection. Overall, the model provides a new interpretation of the in vivo exponential viral growth observed in experiments and a mechanistic explanation for why the production of large numbers of SIPs does not strongly impede viral growth. Being simple and predictive, our model framework serves as a useful tool to understand coinfection dynamics in spatially structured acute viral infections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbervead020
JournalVirus Evolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


  • coinfection
  • influenza virus
  • semi-infectious particle
  • spatial structure
  • within-host dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Virology


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