Asthma and helminth infections induce similar immune responses characterized by the presence of peripheral blood eosinophilia and elevated serum IgE levels. Epidemiological surveys have reported either increases or decreases in the development of atopic diseases and asthma based on the prevalence of helminth infections in the population.
The aim of this study was to determine if a pre-existing helminth infection would increase or decrease subsequent allergic responses to an unrelated allergen in the lungs.
BALB/cByJ mice were infected with the nematode parasite Strongyloides stercoralis prior to ovalbumin (OVA) immunization and intratracheal challenge. Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) and fluid (BALF) were collected 3 days post-challenge and cellular and humoral immune responses were measured.
Intracellular cytokine staining revealed increased IL-4 and IL-5 producing cells in BAL from mice infected with S. stercoralis before OVA sensitization. Increased IL-5 protein levels and decreased IFN-γ protein levels were also observed in the BALF. There was, however, no increase in airway eosinophil accumulation in mice infectd with parasites before sensitization with OVA as compared to mice exposed to OVA alone. Furthermore, eotaxin levels in the lungs induced by OVA was suppressed in mice infected with the parasite before OVA sensitization. The development of OVA specific IgE responses in BALF was also impaired in mice infected with the parasite before sensitization with OVA.
These results suggest that a pre-existing helminth infection may potentiate a systemic Type 2-type response yet simultaneously suppress in the lungs allergen-specific IgE responses and eotaxin levels in response to subsequent exposure to allergens.