Parasitic helminth infections and the control of human allergic and autoimmune disorders

Clin Microbiol Infect. 2016 Jun;22(6):481-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cmi.2016.04.024. Epub 2016 May 10.


The profile of global health today presents a striking reciprocal distribution between parasitic diseases in many of the world's lower-income countries, and ever-increasing levels of inflammatory disorders such as allergy, autoimmunity and inflammatory bowel diseases in the more affluent societies. Attention is particularly focused on helminth worm parasites, which are associated with protection from allergy and inflammation in both epidemiologic and laboratory settings. One mechanistic explanation of this is that helminths drive the regulatory arm of the immune system, abrogating the ability of the host to expel the parasites, while also dampening reactivity to many bystander specificities. Interest has therefore heightened into whether helminth parasites, or their products, hold therapeutic potential for immunologic disorders of the developed world. In this narrative review, progress across a range of trials is discussed, together with prospects for isolating individual molecular mediators from helminths that may offer defined new therapies for inflammatory conditions.

Keywords: Allergy; autoimmunity; helminth therapy; hygiene hypothesis; inflammatory bowel disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autoimmune Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Helminthiasis / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / prevention & control*
  • Immune Tolerance*