Density-dependent parasite establishment suggests infection-associated immunosuppression as an important mechanism for parasite density regulation in onchocerciasis

Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg. 2003 Mar-Apr;97(2):242-50. doi: 10.1016/s0035-9203(03)90132-5.


The modulation of human immune response by filarial parasites has yielded contradictory experimental findings and attracted much controversy. We address the unresolved question of acquisition, establishment and accumulation of Onchocerca volvulus by using a modelling approach that relates computer simulations to cross-sectional data concerning parasite burdens in 913 West African onchocerciasis patients. It is shown that the acquisition of O. volvulus is not constant with host age; instead, the analysis of age profiles of parasite burdens strongly indicate the operation of immunosuppressive processes within the human host, associated with the presence of adult parasites or microfilariae. It is suggested that these processes suppress immunity against incoming infective larvae (L3), which themselves act as an immune modulating component once they have successfully overcome the barrier of concomitant immunity. Suppression of parasite-specific immunity leads to parasite establishment rates which increase along with the parasite burden, but which hardly depend on hyperendemic annual transmission potentials. Children, still immunocompetent due to low parasite burdens, acquire 0.1-0.5 adult female parasites per year, whereas older people, immunosuppressed due to high burdens, acquire 2-4 adult female parasites per year. Differences in parasite establishment between the forest and the savannah strains of O. volvulus are quantified and dynamic aspects of density-dependent parasite establishment discussed.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Host-Parasite Interactions / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance / immunology*
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Middle Aged
  • Onchocerca volvulus / immunology
  • Onchocerciasis / immunology*
  • Onchocerciasis / parasitology