Therapeutic potential of helminths in autoimmune diseases: helminth-derived immune-regulators and immune balance

Parasitol Res. 2017 Aug;116(8):2065-2074. doi: 10.1007/s00436-017-5544-5. Epub 2017 Jun 29.


Helminths have accompanied human throughout history by releasing immune-evasion molecules that could counteract an aberrant immune response within the host. In the past decades, helminth infections are becoming less prevalent possibly due to the developed sanitation. Meanwhile, the incidence of autoimmune diseases is increasing, which cannot be exclusively explained by the changes of susceptibility genes. While the hygiene hypothesis casts light on the problem. The infections of helminths are believed to interact with and regulate human immunity with the byproduct of suppressing the autoimmune diseases. Thus, helminths are potential to treat or cure the autoimmune diseases. The therapeutic progresses and possible immune suppression mechanisms are illustrated in the review. The helminths that are studied most intensively include Heligmosomoides polygyrus, Hymenolepis diminuta, Schistosoma mansoni, Trichinella spiralis, and Trichuris suis. Special attentions are paid on the booming animal models and clinical trials that are to detect the efficiency of immune-modulating helminth-derived molecules on autoimmune diseases. These trials provide us with a prosperous clinical perspective, but the precise mechanism of the down-regulatory immune response remains to be clarified. More efforts are needed to be dedicated until these parasite-derived immune modulators could be used in clinic to treat or cure the autoimmune diseases under a standard management.

Keywords: Autoimmune diseases; Helminths; Immune balance; Therapeutic potential.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / parasitology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / therapy*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / parasitology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / therapy
  • Helminths / immunology*
  • Host-Parasite Interactions
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / immunology*
  • Immunomodulation
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / parasitology
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / therapy
  • Multiple Sclerosis / parasitology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / therapy
  • Therapy with Helminths*


  • Immunologic Factors