NOV 19, 2020 7:00 AM PST

Parasitic Worms Help Unravel the Immune Mechanisms Underlying Chronic Disease

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

Parasitic worms known as helminths have a complicated relationship with the immune systems of the hosts they invade. Termed by experts as “masters of immunomodulation”, worms are able to tinker with inflammatory pathways on a molecular level to keep immune attacks at bay. By putting the molecular mechanisms of worm infections under the microscope, researchers have gained new insights into the nature of an immune regulator known as IL-33.

"The mantra of my lab since its inception has been that parasitic worms manipulate their hosts in very interesting ways to maintain their survival," said Penn University’s De'Broski Herbert, the lead author of a study published in Science Immunology detailing these newly discovered immune pathways.  "SARS-CoV-2 doesn't care about staying in your body very long because it is transmitted so easily. Worms aren't spread so easily, so they have to figure out how to persist."

Helminth parasites are of considerable medical and economic importance due to their ability to infect both humans and animals with potentially lethal consequences. For the most part, however, helminths are able to remain in stealth mode after infecting their host, staying just out of reach of the host’s immune defenses. One of the ways they achieve this is through the modulation of IL-33.

The cytokine IL-33 is not only relevant for parasitic infections but has been shown to play a role in an array of other chronic conditions including asthma and obesity. In their study, Herbert and colleagues discovered that IL-33 has two distinct functions: it can either suppress or activate the immune system. The team identified that its functionality depends on which cell is releasing IL-33.

The scientists used a genetically-engineered mouse model wherein specific cells were modified to disrupt their production of IL-33. The mice were then exposed to hookworms, an intestinal, blood-feeding parasitic roundworm. Mice with immune cells that were not able to secrete IL-33 eliminated the hookworms from their systems rapidly. However, those with immune cells that could produce IL-33 ended up with persistent infections.

The study opens up a whole new field of translational immunology.  "It's kind of the missing link," said Herbert. "It opens up a whole new direction for understanding how this cytokine could be involved in obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's, asthma, and development."

 

 

Sources: Eurekalert, Science Immunology


 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
You May Also Like
FEB 03, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
New Panel of Arthritis Biomarkers Diagnoses Disease With 93.2% Accuracy
FEB 03, 2021
New Panel of Arthritis Biomarkers Diagnoses Disease With 93.2% Accuracy
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a painful and debilitating autoimmune disorder of the joints, particularly those of the ...
FEB 09, 2021
Immunology
Putting the Kibosh on HIV's Stealth Tactics
FEB 09, 2021
Putting the Kibosh on HIV's Stealth Tactics
The human immunodeficiency virus or HIV is always one step of the immune system, a tactic that makes it impossible to co ...
FEB 25, 2021
Immunology
Asthma Inhalers Slash Risk of COVID Hospitalization by 90 Percent
FEB 25, 2021
Asthma Inhalers Slash Risk of COVID Hospitalization by 90 Percent
For mild cases of COVID, doctors recommend the usual regimen for getting through a cold or flu: Staying hydrated and res ...
MAR 16, 2021
Immunology
What Happens When Your Immune System Forgets
MAR 16, 2021
What Happens When Your Immune System Forgets
One of the most remarkable features of the immune system is its ability to “remember” past encounters with p ...
MAR 23, 2021
Immunology
Assay Detects Antibodies in Asymptomatic COVID Carriers
MAR 23, 2021
Assay Detects Antibodies in Asymptomatic COVID Carriers
It is estimated that around one in five people infected with SARS-CoV-2 will not show any infection symptoms. Some of th ...
APR 19, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Insight Into the Molecular Basis of Rheumatoid Arthritis
APR 19, 2021
Insight Into the Molecular Basis of Rheumatoid Arthritis
New research has shown how variants in an immune gene can lead to a high risk of developing the autoimmune disorder rheu ...
Loading Comments...