Parasitic infections and immune function: Effect of helminth infections in a malaria endemic area

Anna G.C. Boef, Linda May, David van Bodegom, Lisette van Lieshout, Jaco J. Verweij, Andrea B. Maier, Rudi G.J. Westendorp, Ulrika K. Eriksson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


According to the hygiene hypothesis, reduced exposure to infections could explain the rise of atopic diseases in high-income countries. Helminths are hypothesised to alter the host's immune response in order to avoid elimination and, as a consequence, also reduce the host responsiveness to potential allergens. To elucidate the effect of current helminth infections on immune responsiveness in humans, we measured cytokine production in a rural Ghanaian population in an area with multiple endemic parasites including malaria, intestinal helminths and protozoa. Multiplex real-time PCR in stool samples was used for the detection of four gastrointestinal helminths, of which only Necator americanus was commonly present. A similar assay was used to test for Giardia lamblia in stool samples and malaria infection in venous blood samples. Levels of the cytokines interleukin (IL)-10, tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α, IL-17, IL-6, IL-13, and interferon (IFN)-γ were determined in whole-blood samples ex vivo-stimulated either with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) and zymosan (for innate cytokine production) or the T-cell mitogen phytohaemagglutinin (PHA). There were no significant differences in either innate or PHA-stimulated cytokine production dependent on current N. americanus infection. Plasmodium falciparum malarial infection was associated with a pro-inflammatory response indicated by increased innate production of TNF-α, IL-17 and IL-6. There was no clear pattern in cytokine responses dependent on G. lamblia-infection. In conclusion, in this rural Ghanaian population current N. americanus infections are not associated with altered immune function, while infection with P. falciparum is associated with pro-inflammatory innate immune responses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)706-711
Number of pages6
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2013


  • Africa
  • Helminths
  • Hygiene hypothesis
  • Immunomodulation
  • Malaria
  • Parasite infection


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