Immune modulation by parasitic nematodes
Grainger, John Robert
Almost 2 billion people world-wide are infected with parasitic helminths. These complex multicellular eukaryotic organisms are capable of establishing long-term infections even in the face of an intact immune response. Typically, in these settings regulatory components of the immune response, such as Foxp3+ T regulatory cells (Tregs), become dominant, limiting protective effector responses towards the parasite. Helminths are thought to have evolved mechanisms, including release of immunomodulatory molecules termed excretory-secretory products (ES), to sway the balance between the regulatory and effector arms of the immune response to favour their persistence. In this thesis both the development of a protective immune response toward, and the potential manipulation of the immune response by, the rodent gastrointestinal nematode Heligmosomoides polygyrus have been studied. Firstly, the effects of H. polygyrus ES (HES) on bone-marrow derived dendritic cells (DCs) were analysed. Although HES did not alter the phenotype of the DC it was found to be able to suppress the ability of the DC to respond to inflammatory stimuli. This activity was lost when HES was heat-inactivated (hiHES). After adoptive transfer, HES-pulsed DCs were able to induce a HESspecific T helper (Th)2-type response even if co-treated with an inflammatory stimulus. Th2-type responses are protective against H. polygyrus infection. Surprisingly, the ability of HES to generate a Th2-response in a co-treatment situation was not related to its anti-inflammatory properties; DCs co-treated with hiHES and an inflammatory stimulus were able to drive an equivalent Th2-response to HES in this situation. Next, making use of mouse strains with different susceptibility phenotypes to primary H. polygyrus infection, potential mechanisms of resistance were characterised. Development of granulomas in the gut wall were found to be associated with reduced worm burdens. Furthermore, in highly susceptible C57BL/6 mice, production of IL-23 was shown to be counter-regulatory to this process, as mice on the same background but deficient in this cytokine have increased numbers of granulomas and dramatically enhanced resistance. Susceptibility to H. polygyrus was also considered at the level of epigenetic regulation. A protein that binds specifically to methylated DNA, methyl-CpG binding domain protein (MBD)2, was found to affect the proportion of Foxp3+ Tregs within the CD4+ T cell population in vivo. Additionally, in vitro induction of Foxp3 in response to TGF-β was enhanced in MBD2-/- CD4+ T cells. MBD2-/- mice had a trend towards increased worm burdens when infected with H. polygyrus, suggesting that the difference in proportion of Tregs may limit generation of an effector response. Finally, the ability of HES to directly affect the regulatory arm of the immune response was focussed upon. It was found that HES was able to induce Foxp3 expression in naïve peripheral T cells, and that this was mediated by stimulation of the TGF-β pathway. The TGF-β mimic was of parasite origin as a pan-vertebrate TGF-β antibody was unable to block its effects but sera from H. polygyrus infected animals was competent to do this. Activity of this type was not limited to HES as ES from the ovine helminth Haemonchus contortus was found to have the same property. These data imply that some helminth parasites have evolved mechanisms to support generation of Foxp3+ Tregs, thus favouring the regulatory arm of the immune response and hence their own persistence.