• Open Access

Parasitic worms and inflammatory diseases

Authors


  • Re-use of this article is permitted in accordance with the Creative Commons Deed, Attribution 2·5, which does not permit commercial exploitation.

: A. Cooke, Department of Pathology, Tennis Court Road, Cambridge, CB2 1QP, UK (e-mail: ac@mole.bio.cam.ac.uk).

SUMMARY

The debate on whether infection precipitates or prevents autoimmunity remains a contentious one. Recently the suggestion that some unknown microbe can be at the origin of some chronic inflammatory diseases has been countered by accumulating evidence that decreasing infection rates might have an important role to play in the rising prevalence of autoimmune disorders. The ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’ was initially postulated to explain the inverse correlation between the incidence of infections and the rise of allergic diseases, particularly in the developed world. Latterly, the Hygiene Hypothesis has been extended to also incorporate autoimmune diseases in general. Amongst the various infectious agents, a particular emphasis has been put on the interaction between parasitic worms and humans. Worm parasites have co-evolved with the mammalian immune system for many millions of years and during this time, they have developed extremely effective strategies to modulate and evade host defences and so maintain their evolutionary fitness. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the human immune system has been shaped by its relationship with parasitic worms and this may be a necessary requirement for maintaining our immunological health. Fully understanding this relationship may lead to novel and effective treatments for a host of deleterious inflammatory reactions.

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