Parasite immunology case study

Defining the interdependence between helminths, host and commensals.

The problem

The gastrointestinal tract harbours the highest number and density of microorganisms in the body – the commensal microbiota. It is widely accepted that this underpins health at multiple levels.

Infection by gastrointestinal dwelling helminths is commonplace and long lived in both man and animals across the planet. It is not surprising therefore, that intestinal parasite infection alters the intestinal microbiota.

However, the functional relationships between parasite, host immunity and commensal and the consequences of these interactions upon health remain to be discovered and defined.

An understanding of the functional interplay between this triad will identify mechanistic pathways that underpin parasite survival, host immunity and commensal population dynamics, ultimately leading to the development of smart therapeutics.

The work

Using well-defined laboratory models of intestinal nematode infection, we have defined the changes that occur in the microbiota during acute, chronic and repeated infection.

We have also discovered that, for some helminths, successful infection itself is dependent upon the presence of an intestinal microbiota. Intriguingly, some intestinal helminths contain their own intestinal microbiota and are dependent upon it.

Underpinned by our germ-free/gnotobiotic facility, we are:

  • identifying key microbial species that support intestinal helminth infection;
  • defining the mechanisms whereby the microbiota influence parasite survival ;
  • discovering the importance of microbiota upon immune function during infection;
  • exploring the mechanisms and consequences of inter-kingdom communication during parasitic infection