Mechanisms of host seeking by parasitic nematodes

Mol Biochem Parasitol. 2016 Jul;208(1):23-32. doi: 10.1016/j.molbiopara.2016.05.007. Epub 2016 May 17.


The phylum Nematoda comprises a diverse group of roundworms that includes parasites of vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants. Human-parasitic nematodes infect more than one billion people worldwide and cause some of the most common neglected tropical diseases, particularly in low-resource countries [1]. Parasitic nematodes of livestock and crops result in billions of dollars in losses each year [1]. Many nematode infections are treatable with low-cost anthelmintic drugs, but repeated infections are common in endemic areas and drug resistance is a growing concern with increasing therapeutic and agricultural administration [1]. Many parasitic nematodes have an environmental infective larval stage that engages in host seeking, a process whereby the infective larvae use sensory cues to search for hosts. Host seeking is a complex behavior that involves multiple sensory modalities, including olfaction, gustation, thermosensation, and humidity sensation. As the initial step of the parasite-host interaction, host seeking could be a powerful target for preventative intervention. However, host-seeking behavior remains poorly understood. Here we review what is currently known about the host-seeking behaviors of different parasitic nematodes, including insect-parasitic nematodes, mammalian-parasitic nematodes, and plant-parasitic nematodes. We also discuss the neural bases of these behaviors.

Keywords: Entomopathogenic nematodes; Host-seeking behavior; Olfactory behavior; Parasitic helminths; Parasitic nematodes; Skin-penetrating nematodes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Host-Seeking Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Nematoda / physiology*
  • Plants