The epidemiology of autoimmune diseases and helminth infections led to suggestions that helminths could improve inflammatory conditions, which was then tested using animal models. This has translated to clinical investigations aimed at the safe and controlled reintroduction of helminthic exposure to patients suffering from autoimmune diseases (so-called 'helminthic therapy') in an effort to mitigate the inflammatory response. In this review, we summarize the results of recent clinical trials of helminthic therapy, with particular attention to mechanisms of action. Whereas previous reviews have emphasized immune regulatory mechanisms activated by helminths, we propose that enhancement of mucosal barrier function may have an equally important role in improving conditions of inflammatory bowel diseases.
Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.