Category Archives: Parasites

Immunosuppression with Stem Cells and the Skin Fights Helminths

Mesenchymal Stem Cell
Mesenchymal Stem Cells induce an immunosuppressive response in the colon.
This week, we learn more about how mesenchymal stem cells affect the immune system, why CX3CR1 is needed to clear a yeast infection and how the body stops helminths in their tracks.

Stem Cells and Immunosuppression

A recent study on mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) therapy has uncovered a novel mechanism of immunosuppression in the colon. The French group was using MSC therapy to counter gastrointestinal complications caused during tumor radiotherapy. They found that the treatment reduced colon epithelial damage, but also reduced the relative proportion of infiltrating CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. There was also a marked reduction of T cell activation and proliferation. This downregulation was parallel with significant increases of corticosterone secretion and subsequent interleukin-10 expression.  Experiments with a glucocorticoid receptor blocker pointed towards an impaired TCR signal transduction initiated by the MSC treatment. It will be interesting to see if this finding can help improve MSC treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

CX3CR1 and Candida

Crohn’s disease (CD) is often associated with harmful Candida albicans infections. Unlocking the secrets behind how the body controls Candida infections could be beneficial for CD patients. In this study, performed by the NIH, it was determined that the chemokine receptor CX3CR1 is crucial for macrophage survival in the kidney, the preferred hideout for Candida. During an infection, it was found that CX3CR1 was upregulated in the kidney macrophages. Mice deficient in CX3CR1 had a high mortality and were found to have uncontrolled Candida growth in the kidneys. The loss of the receptor prevented macrophages from accumulating in the kidney and engulfing the yeast. Given the growing role CX3CR1 in the pathogenesis of IBD, it will be interesting to consider if this receptor forms a link between CD and associated Candidiasis.

Helminth Induced Immune Reactions

As intestinal worms are becoming a new therapeutic for IBD, it’s interesting to learn about the immune responses that are induced upon their introduction to the body. A Japanese study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine has now shown that the skin does its best to prevent reinfection of Nippostrongylus brasiliensis. This species is similar to Necator americanus, which is used in IBD therapy. These worms enter through the skin. The scientists found that during the first exposure the skin had a limited response. However during a second application, there was a huge immune reaction, which was characterized by cellular infiltrates that trapped the larvae. The key immune cell mediating this trapping was the basophil, which detected worm antigens (bound to antibodies) using FcεRI and elicited the help of macrophages. It will be useful to determine if this process hinders worm treatment in IBD patients who have already had helminth infections.


Th9 Clears Parasites and Aluminum Worsens IBD

Aluminum could be one of the causes of IBD.
This week we find new ways that bacteria interact with the gut, aluminum looks like a deadly suspect in inflammatory bowel disease and parasitic worms seem to have their own T helper subset.

Bacteria Escapism in Crohn’s Disease Revealed

Adherent-invasive Escherichia coli (AIEC) are found in Crohn’s disease (CD) patients and are able to aggravate inflammation. Control of these kinds of bacteria requires functional autophagy, which destroys intracellular pathogens. Researchers from the University of Auvergne in France have now discovered that AIEC protect themselves from destruction by manipulating the genes needed to control autophagy.  This was achieved by an upregulation of microRNAs designed to inhibit ATG5 and ATG16L1 expression. Blocking the microRNAs restored autophagy and reduced inflammatory responses. This mainly in vitro study suggests that restoring autophagy in CD may lead to lowered inflammation.

Aluminum: New Culprit in Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) incidence has risen simultaneously with industrialization and the emergence of modern society. This suggests that environmental pollutants may cause IBD. One possible guilty suspect is aluminum, which is known to be associated with abnormal immune function. To determine if aluminum was involved with intestinal inflammation, scientists from France administered aluminum to three types of murine IBD models. They found that aluminum worsened disease severity in each model, impaired intestinal barrier function and directly increased cellular immune responses.

Parasitic Worms Get Their Own T Cell Subset

Parasitic worms are now being investigated in clinical trials as a possible way to treat IBD. Research investigating the immune response generated by parasitic worms would be helpful for refining these studies. A current publication in Immunity does just this by examining T cell responses and the clearance of Nippostrongylus brasiliensis, a worm similar to Necator americanus used in the mouse IBD studies. They found that interleukin-9 producing T cells (Th9) were essential for worm clearance and the induction of T helper 2 cytokines. An interesting research question would be to determine if Th9 is involved in the therapeutic effect of parasitic worms in IBD.

Pathogens Plunder the Gut after Antibiotic Treatment

Antibiotic treatment is associated with IBD development. In general, this is likely associated with the resultant changes in the microbiota and also the entrance of enteric pathogens. Finding ways to use antibiotics safely could prevent some cases of IBD. A research team from Stanford has brought us one step closer by clarifying how some enteric pathogens thrive after antibiotic treatment. They found that the availability of bacterial sugars after antibiotics is part of the problem. Normal microbiota “harvest” sugars attached to the mucus for food. However when antibiotics are applied, surviving Salmonella typhimurium and Clostridium difficile quickly utilize the free sugars to grow and thrive.


Helminths and Peritoneal B Cells Reduce Colitis

Heligmosomoides polygyrus bakeri. This murine intestinal parasite induces colon regulatory T cells.
This week reveals two interesting inflammatory bowel disease-related studies published in the Journal of Immunology. One shows how parasites can induce potent colon regulatory T cells, and the other describes the importance of peritoneal B cells in regulating inflamed intestines. For both articles, interleukin-10 plays a critical role.

Helminth Infections Induce Colon Protective Regulatory T Cells

Helminths have the ability to reduce harmful inflammation, and they are now being tested as therapeutic agents for inflammatory bowel disease in clinical trials. Using a helminth found in mice, Heligmosomoides polygyrus bakeri, scientists from Tufts attempted to learn how these parasites performed their function in the intestines. They found that the helminths increased the number of Foxp3+ regulatory T cells in the colons of host mice and increased their expression of interleukin-10 (IL-10). These regulatory T cells were capable of preventing experimental colitis in an IL-10 dependent manner.

IL-10 Expressing B Cells in the Peritoneal Cavity Modulate Colitis

B cells come in many types and are present at many locations of the body. Within the main abdominal cavity, called the peritoneal cavity, many types of B cells are found, including IL-10 producing ones called B10 cells. Scientists from Duke found that these B cells also play an important role in colitis by lowering the severity of the inflammation. The production of IL-10 by these B cells significantly reduced disease severity in spontaneous and induced models of colitis by regulating neutrophil infiltration, Th1 cells, and proinflammatory cytokine production.

Do you think that interleukin-10 is the über-cytokine needed to control inflammatory bowel disease? Let us know in the comments below!


Hang L, Blum AM, Setiawan T, Urban JP Jr, Stoyanoff KM, Weinstock JV. Heligmosomoides polygyrus bakeri Infection Activates Colonic Foxp3+ T Cells Enhancing Their Capacity To Prevent Colitis. J Immunol. 2013 Aug 15;191(4):1927-34. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1201457. Epub 2013 Jul 12.

Maseda D, Candando KM, Smith SH, Kalampokis I, Weaver CT, Plevy SE, Poe JC, Tedder TF. Peritoneal Cavity Regulatory B Cells (B10 Cells) Modulate IFN-γ+CD4+ T Cell Numbers during Colitis Development in Mice. J Immunol. 2013 Aug 5. [Epub ahead of print]

5 Hot Topics in Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research

Inflammatory bowel disease research, just like clothes and music, is subject to trends. To give you a good idea about where things are heading at the moment, I’ve composed a list of five hot topics in IBD research. The choices were based mainly on my own research experiences, the research prioritization report published by the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), as well as ideas found on patient forums. 

5 Hot Topics in Inflammatory Bowel Disease Research


1. Microbiota

Microbiota, all of the microorganisms that colonize our bodies, takes the first spot. This topic went from obscurity to the research darling at the end of the 2000s. The first searches for the term, “gut microbiota” were in October, 2008 and were precipitated by the Human Microbiome project and the publication of a comprehensive review of human microbiota in Nature Review Microbiology. Since then, the interest has steadily risen, and in 2012, Nature even published a special on human microbiota.

Gut microbiota, without a doubt, play a role in the initiation and progress of IBD. Gut microbiota are so important to our healthy intestinal functioning that they are like an additional organ. They are important to the immunological development of our gastrointestinal tract and they regulate the development of certain types of immunity, including regulatory T cell and T helper 17 responses. Research has already shown that a number of microorganisms are able to protect from IBD, while a number of them also encourage it.

Fecal transplantation, the transplantation of healthy donor feces to IBD patients is already showing some promise for ulcerative colitis. There are also companies developing synthetic feces for transplantation. Furthermore, there is also great interest in using probiotics as treatments. Controlling microbiota in patients to optimize health will be a future step towards treating IBD.

2. Parasitic Worms

This topic is less mainstream than microbiota, however, it wins a spot due to patient interest. Joel Weinstock of the University of Iowa was the first to consider parasitic worms as being useful immunomodulators for IBD patients. In the 1990s, he realized that the loss of parasitic worms from our intestinal tracts was indirectly correlated with the rise of IBD. Even though early experiments with patients were promising, it’s only now that serious clinical trials are being performed with pig whipworms and human hookworms. Despite the slow advance of clinical studies, patients have not been deterred in seeking out parasitic worms for self-treatment. Though unregulated, providers exist that specialize in delivering worms to patients.

More research is needed to determine how they work. To make it more complicated, each type of parasitic worm has its own characteristics. In general, it is well known that parasitic worms induce T helper 2 responses, which can counteract T helper 1 and 17 responses found in IBD and increase wound repair. Some nematodes are also known to support regulatory T cell induction through secreted TGF-β mimics. Pig whipworm treatment also seems to increase the amounts of IL-22 producing T helper cells, which is known to help epithelial barrier function.

3. Innate Lymphoid Cells

Interest about these cells exploded in 2011 with the publication of an article in Nature Immunology about their involvement in the lung response during influenza infection. Until this point, they certainly were not a mainstream topic. But, it soon became apparent that they had an enormous potential to influence inflammatory responses in the gut. These cells are the primitive counter-parts to the well-known T helper subsets of the adaptive immune response. They do not possess T cell receptors or lineage markers for T cells. Instead, they are extremely sensitive to cytokine signals produced by surrounding immune cells and then secrete their own signature cytokines in return.

Studies of innate lymphoid cells in IBD patients show that their populations can be affected by disease status, and they appear to accumulate during chronic disease. This would suggest that small changes in the immunological status of patients could result in a quick response by these cells as they pump out their pro-inflammatory cytokines. Finding ways to rein in these cells could limit flaring.

4. The Brain-Gut Axis

The term “brain-gut axis” became well known in 2012, although it has been since the 80s. The concept brings to light the interconnectivity between the nerves of the gut and the functioning of the brain. In fact, many common neurological disorders like autism, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are associated with intestinal issues, while IBD and IBS patients often suffer from depression and anxiety. Even more interesting is the realization that microbiota (see the first topic) appear to influence behaviour.

The pathways that connect the brain and the gut include the endocrine system with the chain of command between the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenals as well as the neural pathway consisting of communication between the enteric nervous system with the central nervous system via the vagus nerve or sympathetic nerves. This field could deliver much needed information for prevention and treatment of IBD. It’s speculated that childhood stress and trauma could contribute to IBD susceptibility and that neurological problems may be apparent before disease onset. This concept could also lead to treatments in the form of drugs that support the anti-inflammatory actions of the nervous system.

5. Memory T cells

Learning about adaptive immune responses and memory are the mainstay of any immunology course. However, the popularity of studying memory T cells in the context of IBD isn’t all that popular. A pubmed search reveals only 149 articles with the terms “inflammatory bowel disease” and “memory T cells.” However, recent publications on this topic as well as the fact adaptive immunity is a CCFA research priority merit its inclusion on this list.

Memory T cells are created after naïve T cells are primed and expanded. They recognise antigens from the past and also remember how they should react to them. This means that they can act quickly to alert and recruit other immune cells even without the benefit of additional immune triggers like ambient cytokines or co-stimulation. In IBD, they could explain why flares can sometimes be initiated by something so simple as eating the wrong food or by other environmental changes. New findings show that bone marrow cell-derived IL-7 is able to sustain colitis-associated memory T cells and that blocking T cell traffic lowers the severity in colitis models. These findings should boost interest in this area of research.

Bonaz, B. L. B., & Bernstein, C. N. C. (2012). Brain-gut interactions in inflammatory bowel disease. Gastroenterology, 144(1), 36–49.

Broadhurst, M. J., Leung, J. M., Kashyap, V., McCune, J. M., Mahadevan, U., McKerrow, J. H., & Loke, P. (2010). IL-22+ CD4+ T Cells Are Associated with Therapeutic Trichuris trichiura Infection in an Ulcerative Colitis Patient. Science translational medicine, 2(60), 60ra88–60ra88.

Cryan, J. F. J., & Dinan, T. G. T. (2012). Mind-altering microorganisms: the impact of the gut microbiota on brain and behaviour. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, 13(10), 701–712.

Denson, L. A., Long, M. D., Mcgovern, D. P. B., Kugathasan, S., Wu, G. D., Young, V. B., et al. (2013). Challenges in IBD Research. Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, 19(4), 677–682.

Jostins, L. L., Ripke, S. S., Weersma, R. K. R., Duerr, R. H. R., McGovern, D. P. D., Hui, K. Y. K., et al. (2012). Host-microbe interactions have shaped the genetic architecture of inflammatory bowel disease. Nature, 491(7422), 119–124.

Kamada, N., Seo, S.-U., Chen, G. Y., & Nuñez, G. (2013). Role of the gut microbiota in immunity and inflammatory disease. Nature Reviews Immunology, 13(5), 321–335.

Nemoto, Y., Kanai, T., Kameyama, K., Shinohara, T., Sakamoto, N., Totsuka, T., et al. (2009). Long-Lived Colitogenic CD4+ Memory T Cells Residing Outside the Intestine Participate in the Perpetuation of Chronic Colitis. The Journal of Immunology, 183(8), 5059–5068.

Walker, J. A., Barlow, J. L., & McKenzie, A. N. J. (2013). Innate lymphoid cells — how did we miss them? Nature Reviews Immunology, 13(2), 75–87.

Whelan, R. A. K., Hartmann, S., & Rausch, S. (2011). Nematode modulation of inflammatory bowel disease. Protoplasma, 249(4), 871–886.