Understanding human and parasite interactions
Whipworms are soil-transmitted parasitic worms that infect about 700 million people in the tropics and sub-tropics. An EU-funded project worked to better understand its interactions with human epithelial and immune cells, in the hope of identifying new treatment possibilities and alleviating suffering.
© sinhyu #142608343, 2019 source: stock.adobe.com
Whipworms are parasitic roundworms that live preferentially in the human cecum, the blind pouch at the beginning of the large intestine. They tunnel through epithelial cells and cause inflammation, potentially resulting in trichuriasis, an infection similar to colitis.
Despite extensive research, the role of whipworm interactions with host epithelial and immune cells in triggering parasite expulsion remains unclear. This has hindered the development of anti-parasite therapies.
The goal of the EU-funded GUTWORM project was to investigate and understand the interaction between whipworms and host cells. To achieve this, project researchers used T. muris, a mouse model, to replicate whipworm infection in humans.
The GUTWORM project had various aims. First, the team set out to identify new parasite and host genes that could interplay and modulate immunological outcomes.
It also characterised the role of host genes in whipworm infection and immunity. Here, novel and known candidate genetic mutations conferring susceptibility to colitis were targeted. GUTWORM researchers tested mice with particular mutations to evaluate the influence of these on anti-parasite immunity and expulsion.
Finally, after identifying key genes regulating the immune response to whipworms, the team explored the precise mechanisms of these genes to help them understand their effect on the parasite.
The GUTWORM project has generated a wealth of fundamental data on host-whipworm interactions. Ultimately, this will provide tools for future efforts to control these parasites, identifying potential new therapeutic targets for diseases that cause suffering in people living in tropical and sub-tropical regions.
The resulting knowledge of the parasite-immunological interplay could also help scientists understand other intestinal inflammatory diseases such as ulcerative colitis.