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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Dec 7;270(1532):2481-4.

Correlated evolution between host immunity and parasite life histories in primates and oxyurid parasites.

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Laboratoire de Parasitologie Evolutive, CNRS-UMR 7103, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, 7 quai St Bernard, F-75252 Paris cedex 05, France.


Maturation time is a pivotal life-history trait of parasitic nematodes, determining adult body size, as well as daily and total fecundity. Recent theoretical work has emphasized the influence of prematurational mortality on the optimal values of age and size at maturity in nematodes. Eosinophils are a family of white blood cells often associated with infections by parasitic nematodes. Although the role of eosinophils in nematode resistance is controversial, recent work has suggested that the action of these immune effectors might be limited to the larval stages of the parasite. If eosinophils act on larval survival, one might predict, in line with theoretical models, that nematode species living in hosts with large eosinophil numbers should show reduced age and size at maturity. We tested this prediction using the association between the pinworms (Oxyuridae, Nematoda) and their primate hosts. Pinworms are highly host specific and are expected to be involved in a coevolutionary process with their hosts. We found that the body size of female parasites was negatively correlated with eosinophil concentration, whereas the concentration of two other leucocyte families-neutrophils and lymphocytes-was unrelated to female body size. Egg size of parasites also decreased with host eosinophil concentration, independently of female size. Male body size was unrelated to host immune parameters. Primates with the highest immune defence, therefore, harbour small female pinworms laying small eggs. These results are in agreement with theoretical expectations and suggest that life histories of oxyurid parasites covary with the immune defence of their hosts. Our findings illustrate the potential for host immune defence as a factor driving parasite life-history evolution.

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