Thursday, June 28, 2012
Immunomodulation of allergic disease by nematode infection
The consistent observation that developing countries have very low frequencies of atopy and allergic diseases has been correlated with environmental exposure to helminth infection. The hygiene hypothesis has been proffered to account for these observations as it has to explain protective effects of living on traditional farms. Small numbers of pilot and proof-of-concept trials have been looking at the nematode-allergy connection as possible therapy for a number of diseases.
This month’s issue presents a review by Jouvin and Kinet (J Allergy Clin Immunol 2012;130:3-10) of this pioneering research and the preliminary results that suggest that certain helminths may be human symbionts rather than parasites.
Jouvin and Kinet begin with an overview of current research into nematode therapy for inflammatory bowel and autoimmune diseases, employing Trichurus suis ova (TSO), or pig whipworm, to treat patients with Crohn’s Disease (CD), ulcerative colitis (UC) and multiple sclerosis (MS). The trials were very small, from 4 subjects to 54 subjects, with safety and tolerability as the endpoints. There were no AEs reported in the CD and UC trials, and mild GI distress and transient eosinophilia in the MS trial that resolved without subjects dropping out from the studies. Stool specimens collected were all negative for ova and parasites, except an isolated sample in the MS trial. These limited safety results were sufficient for FDA to approve an open-label efficacy study of TSO in MS.
Jouvin and Kinet review the basics of the hygiene hypothesis and discuss the epidemiological and animal evidence for immunomodulatory effects of helminths, as well as limited results of helminth treatment in Western countries. The authors also cover the logic supporting the choice of TSO, in particular because it is not a known human pathogen.
They summarize the safety findings of published research and note their own experience with TSO in the treatment of peanut or tree nut allergy, which was consistent with other reports of transient, mild GI side effects and eosinophilia. Secondary efficacy reports are also included, with some preliminary findings being promising: in a study of CD, 70% of subjects attained remission at the end of the study; in a UC trial, 43% in the treatment group had improved disease compared to 17% in the control group; and in an MS study, a lower rate of appearance of new lesions imaged by MRI was observed during active treatment. The authors also present an interesting single case report on nematode treatment for autism.
Jouvin and Kinet discuss the potential of other nematodes as therapeutic agents then review the biochemistry of helminth extracts, noting that a phosphorylcholine glycoprotein, ES-62, has been isolated as an effector molecule. They comment that ES-62 prevent mast cell activation and modulate TH17 responses. Also, ES-62 has been shown to require TLR4 for its activity.
The authors conclude that TSO as seen from very preliminary data is safe and well tolerated, and limited data suggests it ameliorates certain autoimmune diseases. They urge continued research on the mechanisms and optimal dosing to achieve immunomodulation.