Research Article

Exploring the immunology of parasitism – from surface antigens to the hygiene hypothesis

R. M. MAIZELSa1 c1

a1 Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution, and Institute of Immunology and Infection Research, University of Edinburgh, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK


Helminth immunology is a field which has changed beyond recognition in the past 30 years, transformed not only by new technologies from cDNA cloning to flow cytometry, but also conceptually as our definition of host immune pathways has matured. The molecular revolution defined key nematode surface and secreted antigens, and identified candidate immunomodulators that are likely to underpin parasites' success in eluding immune attack. The immunological advances in defining cytokine networks, lymphocyte subsets and innate cell recognition have also made a huge impact on our understanding of helminth infections. Most recently, the ideas of regulatory immune cells, in particular the regulatory T cell, have again overturned older thinking, but also may explain immune hyporesponsiveness observed in chronic helminth diseases, as well as the link to reduced allergic reactions observed in human and animal infections. The review concludes with a forward look to where we may make future advances towards the final eradication of helminth diseases.

(Received January 27 2009)

(Revised March 09 2009)

(Accepted March 09 2009)

(Online publication May 22 2009)