The evolutionary response to endemic infections with parasitic worms (helminth) was the development of a distinct regulatory immune profile arising from the need to encapsulate the helminths while simultaneously repairing tissue damage. According to the old friend's hypothesis, the diminished exposure to these parasites in the developed world has resulted in a dysregulated immune response that contributes to the increased incidence of immune mediated diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Indeed, the global distribution of MS shows an inverse correlation to the prevalence of helminth infection. On this basis, the possibility of treating MS with helminth infection has been explored in animal models and phase 1 and 2 human clinical trials. However, the possibility also exists that the individual immune modulatory molecules secreted by helminth parasites may offer a more defined therapeutic strategy.
Keywords: environmental factors; helminth parasites; immune modulation; innate immunity; multiple sclerosis; old friend’s hypothesis.