A sticky end for gastrointestinal helminths; the role of the mucus barrier

Parasite Immunol. 2018 Apr;40(4):e12517. doi: 10.1111/pim.12517. Epub 2018 Mar 4.


Gastrointestinal (GI) nematodes are a group of successful multicellular parasites that have evolved to coexist within the intestinal niche of multiple species. It is estimated that over 10% of the world's population are chronically infected by GI nematodes, making this group of parasitic nematodes a major burden to global health. Despite the large number of affected individuals, there are few effective treatments to eradicate these infections. Research into GI nematode infections has primarily focused on defining the immunological and pathological consequences on host protection. One important but neglected aspect of host protection is mucus, and the concept that mucus is just a simple barrier is no longer tenable. In fact, mucus is a highly regulated and dynamic-secreted matrix, underpinned by a physical hydrated network of highly glycosylated mucins, which is increasingly recognized to have a key protective role against GI nematode infections. Unravelling the complex interplay between mucins, the underlying epithelium and immune cells during infection are a major challenge and are required to fully define the protective role of the mucus barrier. This review summarizes the current state of knowledge on mucins and the mucus barrier during GI nematode infections, with particular focus on murine models of infection.

Keywords: Nippostrongylus brasiliensis; Trichinella spiralis; Trichuris spp; goblet cell; innate immunity; mucosal immunity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / immunology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / parasitology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Goblet Cells / immunology
  • Goblet Cells / metabolism*
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mucins / metabolism
  • Mucus / metabolism*
  • Nematoda / immunology*
  • Nematode Infections / immunology*
  • Nematode Infections / parasitology


  • Mucins