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Author Notes:

Address correspondence to Katia Koelle, katia.koelle@duke.edu.


Research Funding:

This work was funded by MIDAS CIDID U54-GM111274, supporting K.K. and A.S.L.

A.S.L. was further supported by Duke Medical Scientists Training Program grant T32 GM007171.

E.G. was supported by grant U01 AI111598.


  • bottleneck
  • influenza A virus
  • next-generation sequencing

Transmission bottleneck size estimation from pathogen deep-sequencing data, with an application to human influenza A virus


Journal Title:

Journal of Virology


Volume 91, Number 14


Type of Work:

Article | Final Publisher PDF


The bottleneck governing infectious disease transmission describes the size of the pathogen population transferred from the donor to the recipient host. Accurate quantification of the bottleneck size is particularly important for rapidly evolving pathogens such as influenza virus, as narrow bottlenecks reduce the amount of transferred viral genetic diversity and, thus, may decrease the rate of viral adaptation. Previous studies have estimated bottleneck sizes governing viral transmission by using statistical analyses of variants identified in pathogen sequencing data. These analyses, however, did not account for variant calling thresholds and stochastic viral replication dynamics within recipient hosts. Because these factors can skew bottleneck size estimates, we introduce a new method for inferring bottleneck sizes that accounts for these factors. Through the use of a simulated data set, we first show that our method, based on beta-binomial sampling, accurately recovers transmission bottleneck sizes, whereas other methods fail to do so. We then apply our method to a data set of influenza A virus (IAV) infections for which viral deep-sequencing data from transmission pairs are available. We find that the IAV transmission bottleneck size estimates in this study are highly variable across transmission pairs, while the mean bottleneck size of 196 virions is consistent with a previous estimate for this data set. Furthermore, regression analysis shows a positive association between estimated bottleneck size and donor infection severity, as measured by temperature. These results support findings from experimental transmission studies showing that bottleneck sizes across transmission events can be variable and influenced in part by epidemiological factors. IMPORTANCE The transmission bottleneck size describes the size of the pathogen population transferred from the donor to the recipient host and may affect the rate of pathogen adaptation within host populations. Recent advances in sequencing technology have enabled bottleneck size estimation from pathogen genetic data, although there is not yet a consistency in the statistical methods used. Here, we introduce a new approach to infer the bottleneck size that accounts for variant identification protocols and noise during pathogen replication. We show that failing to account for these factors leads to an underestimation of bottleneck sizes. We apply this method to an existing data set of human influenza virus infections, showing that transmission is governed by a loose, but highly variable, transmission bottleneck whose size is positively associated with the severity of infection of the donor. Beyond advancing our understanding of influenza virus transmission, we hope that this work will provide a standardized statistical approach for bottleneck size estimation for viral pathogens.

Copyright information:

© 2017 Sobel Leonard et al.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
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