Worm Infection Can Improve Gut Health: Study

Parasitic worms promote the growth of beneficial intestinal microbes in a mouse model of inflammatory bowel disease.

By Tanya Lewis | April 14, 2016

Egg from a human whipworm (Trichuris trichiura)CDC, B.G. PARTINNot all parasitic worm infections are detrimental. Researchers at the New York University (NYU) Langone School of Medicine recently found that infection with helminths promoted the growth of healthy gut microbes in a mouse model of Crohn’s disease. The findings, published today (April 14) in Science, point toward possible avenues for treating intestinal disorders.

“It’s a beautifully done paper,” immunologist Joel Weinstock of Tufts University in Boston, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Science. “It had not been previously shown that one of the mechanisms of IBD is through changes in the intestinal flora.”

Some studies suggest that parasitic worms may have beneficial effects on everything from intestinal diseases to autism. In fact, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is known to be less prevalent in parts of the world with high rates of worm infection.

To identify the mechanism behind this unusual link, NYU’s Ken Cadwell and colleagues studied mice that lacked the gene Nod2, which confers susceptibility to Crohn’s disease. The mice developed abnormal gut morphology, including increased numbers of Bacteroides vulgatus bacteria.

But infecting the mice with the intestinal worm Trichuris muris restored the animals’ guts to a healthy state, the researchers found. It did this by blocking B. vulgatus with the immune signaling molecules interleukin 4 (IL4) and IL13, and by promoting the growth of beneficial Clostridiales bacteria. Infection with another worm, Heligmosomoides polygyrus, had an even stronger beneficial effect, the researchers reported.

“What we found was that if you take a worm that’s otherwise not supposed to be that great for you, and give it to these mice, you [can] prevent or reverse inflammation,” Cadwell said in a press release.

In addition, the researchers analyzed stool samples from an indigenous Malaysian population with high levels of helminth infection, both before and after a deworming treatment, finding that Clostridiales levels were reduced whereas B. vulgatus levels were increased.

The researchers were able to achieve the same beneficial effect as the worms by giving mice Clostridiales alone. “Maybe we don’t need to give people parasitic worms, which can be harmful and cause disease, and instead, target harmful bacteria by replacing them with healthy bacteria and restoring a healthy microbiome,” Cadwell said in the press release. 

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Comments

Avatar of: wctopp

wctopp

Posts: 110

April 15, 2016

From the dawn of the mammalian digestive system humans have been evolving to accomodate both bacteria and parasites in our intestines.  We're now learning just how important these bacteria, "the microbiome", can be.  However fifty or a hundred years ago we simply declared intestinal parasites to be BAD and banished them.  Now we wring our hands and wonder from where all these modern afflictions have come.  Obesity, diabetes, autism.  I'd bet money that if we put these parasites back where they belong that at least some of this stuff would go away again.

Avatar of: dmarciani

dmarciani

Posts: 56

April 15, 2016

While helminth parasites are extremely good in modulating immunity to prevent an inflammatory Th1 immune response, it is quite unlikely that infection with these parasites would be beneficial in the long term. Indeed, a series of health problems in the less developed areas of the world are due to parasites. Yet, how these parasites manage to achieve that goal for their own benefit has been elucidated some years ago; indeed all of the information points to fucosylated glycans acting at the DC-SIGN level to induce a Th2 immunity while inhibiting, but not abrogating Th1 immunity. Hence, those findings provide the basis to develop effective Th2 immune modulators without the problems associated with parasites.

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