Humans and other mammals mount vigorous immune assaults against helminth parasites, yet there are intriguing reports that the immune response can enhance rather than impair parasite development. It has been hypothesized that helminths, like many free-living organisms, should optimize their development and reproduction in response to cues predicting future life expectancy. However, immune-dependant development by helminth parasites has so far eluded such evolutionary explanation. By manipulating various arms of the immune response of experimental hosts, we show that filarial nematodes, the parasites responsible for debilitating diseases in humans like river blindness and elephantiasis, accelerate their development in response to the IL-5 driven eosinophilia they encounter when infecting a host. Consequently they produce microfilariae, their transmission stages, earlier and in greater numbers. Eosinophilia is a primary host determinant of filarial life expectancy, operating both at larval and at late adult stages in anatomically and temporally separate locations, and is implicated in vaccine-mediated protection. Filarial nematodes are therefore able to adjust their reproductive schedules in response to an environmental predictor of their probability of survival, as proposed by evolutionary theory, thereby mitigating the effects of the immune attack to which helminths are most susceptible. Enhancing protective immunity against filarial nematodes, for example through vaccination, may be less effective at reducing transmission than would be expected and may, at worst, lead to increased transmission and, hence, pathology.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)