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.
- Hygiene hypothesis
- Parasite infection