Background: The hygiene hypothesis suggests that helminth infections prevent a range of autoimmune diseases.
Methodology/principal findings: To investigate the effects of S. japonicum infection on collagen-induced arthritis (CIA), male DBA/1 mice were challenged with unisexual or bisexual S. japonicum cercariae two weeks prior to bovine type II collagen (CII) immunization or at the onset of CIA. S. japonicum infection prior to CII immunization significantly reduced the severity of CIA. ELISA (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay) showed that the levels of anti-CII IgG and IgG2a were reduced in prior schistosome-infected mice, while anti-CII IgG1 was elevated. Splenocyte proliferation against both polyclonal and antigen-specific stimuli was reduced by prior schistosome infection as measured by tritiated thymidine incorporation ((3)H-TdR). Cytokine profiles and CD4(+) T cells subpopulation analysis by ELISA and flow cytometry (FCM) demonstrated that prior schistosome infection resulted in a significant down-regulation of pro-inflammatory cytokines (IFN-γ, TNF-α, IL-1β and IL-6) and Th1 cells, together with up-regulation of the anti-inflammatory cytokine IL-10 and Th2 cells. Interestingly, the expansion of Treg cells and the reduction of Th17 cells were only observed in bisexually infected mice. In addition, prior schistosome infection notably reduced the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and receptor activator of NF-κB ligand (RANKL) in the inflamed joint. However, the disease was exacerbated at one week after infection when established CIA mice were challenged with bisexual cercariae.
Conclusion/significance: Our data provide direct evidence that the Th2 response evoked by prior S. japonicum infection can suppress the Th1 response and pro-inflammatory mediator and that bisexual infection with egg-laying up-regulates the Treg response and down-regulates the Th17 response, resulting in an amelioration of autoimmune arthritis. The beneficial effects might depend on the establishment of a Th2-dominant response rather than the presence of the eggs. Our results suggest that anti-inflammatory molecules from the parasite could treat autoimmune diseases.