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Vet Parasitol. 1997 Nov;72(3-4):327-37; discussion 337-43.

Effects of gastrointestinal nematode infection on the ruminant immune system.

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Immunology and Disease Resistance Laboratory, LPSI, ARS, USDA, Beltsville, MD 20705-2350, USA.


Gastrointestinal (GI) nematodes of ruminants evoke a wide variety of immune responses in their hosts. In terms of specific immune responses directed against parasite antigens, the resulting immune responses may vary from those that give strong protection from reinfection after a relatively light exposure (e.g. Oesophagostomum radiatum) to responses that are very weak and delayed in their onset (e.g. Ostertagia ostertagi). The nature of these protective immune responses has been covered in another section of the workshop and the purpose of this section will be to explore the nature of changes that occur in the immune system of infected animals and to discuss the effect of GI nematode infections upon the overall immunoresponsiveness of the host. The discussion will focus primarily on Ostertagia ostertagi because this parasite has received the most attention in published studies. The interaction of Ostertagia and the host immune system presents what appears to be an interesting contradiction. Protective immunity directed against the parasite is slow to arise and when compared to some of the other GI nematodes, is relatively weak. Although responses that reduce egg output in the feces or increase the number of larvae undergoing inhibition may occur after a relatively brief exposure (3-4 months), immune responses which reduce the number of parasites that can establish in the host are not evident until the animal's second year. Additionally, even older animals that have spent several seasons on infected pastures will have low numbers of Ostertagia in their abomasa, indicating that sterilizing immune responses against the parasite are uncommon. In spite of this apparent lack of specific protective immune responses, infections with Ostertagia induce profound changes in the host immune system. These changes include a tremendous expansion of both the number of lymphocytes in the local lymph nodes and the number of lymphoid cells in the mucosa of the abomasum. This expansion in cell numbers involves a shift away from a predominant classic T cell population (CD2 and CD3 positive), to a population where T cell percentages are decreased and B cells (immunoglobulin-bearing) and gamma-delta cells are increased. At the same time the expression of messenger RNAs for T cell cytokines (IL2, IL4, IL10 and gamma-interferon) is changed to that of increased expression of IL4 and IL10 and decreased expression of IL2 and perhaps of gamma-interferon. The reasons for these changes remain to be elucidated, but it is evident that the lack of protective immune responses is not the result of a poor exposure of the host to parasite products, or to the stomach being an immunoprivileged site. In fact, a superficial look at the responses elicited indicates that Ostertagia induces responses (the so-called TH2 mediated responses) that are widely considered to be the type of responses necessary for protection against GI nematodes. There are many factors that could lead to this apparent lack of immunity in the face of a strong stimulation of immune responses including: (1) the elicitation of suboptimal responses; (2) the failure of the abomasum to function as an efficient effector organ; (3) active evasion of the functional immune response by the parasite; and (4) that these classic responses are not protective in this particular ruminant-parasite system and that novel protective mechanisms may be required. The strong stimulation of the host gut immune system by Ostertagia and perhaps by other GI nematode infections, raises questions about the potential effects of such infections on the overall well-being of the host. A number of authors have indicated that Ostertagia infections may diminish the host's ability to mount subsequent immune responses to antigenic challenges such as vaccination against other infectious organisms. In addition, recent studies have indicated that infections with GI nematodes may result in increased circulatory levels of stress-related hormo.

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