Helminths and the microbiota: parts of the hygiene hypothesis

Parasite Immunol. 2015 Jun;37(6):314-23. doi: 10.1111/pim.12193.


In modern societies, diseases that are driven by dysregulated immune responses are increasing at an alarming pace, such as inflammatory bowel diseases and diabetes. There is an urgent need to understand these epidemiological trends, which are likely to be driven by the changing environment of the last few decades. There are complex interactions between human genetic factors and this changing environment that is leading to the increasing prevalence of metabolic and inflammatory diseases. Alterations to human gut bacterial communities (the microbiota) and lowered prevalence of helminth infections are potential environmental factors contributing to immune dysregulation. Helminths have co-evolved with the gut microbiota and their mammalian hosts. This three-way interaction is beginning to be characterized, and the knowledge gained may enable the design of new therapeutic strategies to treat metabolic and inflammatory diseases. However, these complex interactions need to be carefully investigated in the context of host genetic backgrounds to identify optimal treatment strategies. The complex nature of these interactions raises the possibility that only with highly personalized treatment, with knowledge of individual genetic and microbiota communities, will therapeutic interventions be successful for a majority of the individuals suffering from these complex diseases of immune dysregulation.

Keywords: Type 2 immunity; helminth; hygiene hypothesis; immunoregulation; microbiota.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Helminthiasis / immunology
  • Helminthiasis / parasitology
  • Helminths / physiology
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Humans
  • Hygiene Hypothesis*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / immunology
  • Intestines / immunology
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Intestines / parasitology
  • Microbiota*