The intestinal nematode parasite Heligmosomoides polygyrus bakeri exerts widespread immunomodulatory effects on both the innate and adaptive immune system of the host. Infected mice adopt an immunoregulated phenotype, with abated allergic and autoimmune reactions. At the cellular level, infection is accompanied by expanded regulatory T cell populations, skewed dendritic cell and macrophage phenotypes, B cell hyperstimulation and multiple localised changes within the intestinal environment. In most mouse strains, these act to block protective Th2 immunity. The molecular basis of parasite interactions with the host immune system centres upon secreted products termed HES (H. polygyrus excretory-secretory antigen), which include a TGF-β-like ligand that induces de novo regulatory T cells, factors that modify innate inflammatory responses, and molecules that block allergy in vivo. Proteomic and transcriptomic definition of parasite proteins, combined with biochemical identification of immunogenic molecules in resistant mice, will provide new candidate immunomodulators and vaccine antigens for future research.
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