Murine autoimmune arthritis is exaggerated by infection with the rat tapeworm, Hymenolepis diminuta

Int J Parasitol. 2013 Jun;43(7):593-601. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpara.2013.02.006. Epub 2013 Apr 11.


Infection with helminth parasites triggers strong and stereotypic immune responses in humans and mice, which can protect against specific experimentally-induced autoimmune diseases. We have shown that infection with the rat tapeworm, Hymenolepis diminuta, confers a protective effect on FCA-induced joint inflammation. Here, we investigated the effect of a prophylactic infection with H. diminuta on the K/BxN-serum model of polyarthritis in BALB/c mice. Mice were infected with 10 cysticercoids of H. diminuta by oral gavage and 8 days later arthritis was induced by i.p. injection of K/BxN arthritogenic serum. Joint swelling and pain measurements were recorded throughout a 13 day time course. At necropsy, joints and blood serum were collected. K/BxN-treated mice developed joint inflammation in the front paws, hind paws and knees as shown by increased swelling, mechanical allodynia and myeloperoxidase activity. Mice infected with H. diminuta had more severe disease, with increased eosinophil peroxidase activity in their paws and greater inflammatory infiltrate and synovitis in the knee joints. Hymenolepis diminuta-infected mice displayed significant increases in serum levels of C5a and mast cell protease-1 compared with K/BxN-serum only treatment, the latter being indicative of mast cell activation. In contrast to the protective effect of infection with H. diminuta in FCA-induced monoarthritis, infection with this helminth exacerbated K/BxN serum-induced polyarthritis in BALB/c mice. This correlated with increases in C5a and mast cell activation: factors critical in the development of K/BxN-induced arthritis. Thus, while data accumulate from animal models showing that infection with helminth parasites may be beneficial for a variety of auto-inflammatory diseases, our findings demonstrate the potential for helminths to exacerbate disease. Hence care is needed when helminth therapy is translated into a clinical setting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis / chemically induced
  • Arthritis / pathology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / chemically induced
  • Autoimmune Diseases / complications
  • Autoimmune Diseases / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Hymenolepiasis / complications
  • Hymenolepiasis / pathology*
  • Hymenolepis diminuta / immunology*
  • Joints / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Pain