Modulation of the immune response by helminths: a role for serotonin?

Biosci Rep. 2018 Sep 20;38(5):BSR20180027. doi: 10.1042/BSR20180027. Print 2018 Oct 31.


The mammalian gut is a remarkable organ: with a nervous system that rivals the spinal cord, it is the body's largest repository of immune and endocrine cells and houses an immense and complex microbiota. Infection with helminth parasites elicits a conserved program of effector and regulatory immune responses to eradicate the worm, limit tissue damage, and return the gut to homeostasis. Discrete changes in the nervous system, and to a lesser extent the enteroendocrine system, occur following helminth infection but the importance of these adaptations in expelling the worm is poorly understood. Approximately 90% of the body's serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)) is made in enterochromaffin (EC) cells in the gut, indicative of the importance of this amine in intestinal function. Signaling via a plethora of receptor subtypes, substantial evidence illustrates that 5-HT affects immunity. A small number of studies document changes in 5-HT levels following infection with helminth parasites, but these have not been complemented by an understanding of the role of 5-HT in the host-parasite interaction. In reviewing this area, the gap in knowledge of how changes in the enteric serotonergic system affects the outcome of infection with intestinal helminths is apparent. We present this as a call-to-action by investigators in the field. We contend that neuronal EC cell-immune interactions in the gut are essential in maintaining homeostasis and, when perturbed, contribute to pathophysiology. The full affect of infection with helminth parasites needs to define, and then mechanistically dissect the role of the enteric nervous and enteroendocrine systems of the gut.

Keywords: enterochromaffin cell; helminth; intestine; serotonin.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Enterochromaffin Cells / immunology
  • Enterochromaffin Cells / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / immunology
  • Helminths / immunology
  • Helminths / pathogenicity
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Intestines / immunology*
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Intestines / parasitology
  • Nervous System / immunology
  • Parasitic Diseases / immunology*
  • Parasitic Diseases / parasitology
  • Receptors, Serotonin / genetics
  • Serotonin / immunology*
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin