Onchocerca ochengi infections in cattle as a model for human onchocerciasis: recent developments

A. J. TREES a1c1, S. P. GRAHAM a2, A. RENZ a3, A. E. BIANCO a2 and V. TANYA a4
a1 Veterinary Parasitology, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine/Faculty of Veterinary Science, University of Liverpool, Pembroke Place, Liverpool L3 5QA, UK
a2 Division of Molecular Biology and Immunology, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, University of Liverpool, Pembroke Place, Liverpool L3 5QA, UK
a3 Fachgebiet Parasitologie, Universität Hohenheim, Stuttgart 70599, Germany
a4 Institut de Recherche Agricole pour le Developpement, Wakwa, BP 65, Ngaoundere, Cameroon


The bovine parasite Onchocerca ochengi is a nodule-dwelling filarial nematode, closely related to O. volvulus, the causal agent of human River Blindness, and, sharing with it, the same vector. This brief review, based on a presentation at the BSP Autumn Symposium 1999, describes recent work supported by the WHO Drug Development Research Macrofil programme and the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation vaccine development programme, to research the chemotherapy and immunology of onchocerciasis utilising this model system, with experimental infections in Liverpool and field infections in northern Cameroon. In a series of chemotherapeutic trials involving 10 compounds in 20 treatment regimes, the comparability of drug efficacy against O. ochengi with that described against O. volvulus has been demonstrated. Repeated, long-term treatment with oxytetracycline has been shown to be macrofilaricidal and the effect is hypothesized to be related to action on Wolbachia endobacteria, abundant in O. ochengi. Avermectins/milbemycins are not macrofilaricidal (even in high and repeated long-term treatments) but induce sustained abrogation of embryogenesis. In prospective, field exposure experiments with naive calves, prophylactic treatments with ivermectin and moxidectin prevented the development of adult worm infection, raising the possibility that drug-attenuated larval challenge infections may induce immunity. Putatively immune adult cattle exist in endemically exposed populations, and these have been shown to be significantly less susceptible to challenge than age-matched naive controls, whereas radically drug-cured, previously patently-infected cattle were not. Experimental infections with O. ochengi have revealed the kinetics of the immune response in relation to parasite development and demonstrate analogous responses to those reported in O. volvulus infection in humans and chimpanzees. In an immunization experiment with irradiated L3 larvae, cattle were significantly protected against experimental challenge – the first such demonstration of the experimental induction of immunity in a natural Onchocerca host–parasite system. Taken collectively, these studies not only demonstrate the similarity between the host–parasite relationships of O. ochengi in cattle and O. volvulus in humans, but promise to advance options for the control of human onchocerciasis.

Key Words: onchocerciasis; Onchocerca ochengi.

c1 Corresponding author: Veterinary Parasitology, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Pembroke Place, Liverpool L3 5QA, UK. Tel: 44 151 708 9393. Fax: 44 151 709 3681. E-mail: