Purpose of review
In order to survive in their host, parasitic worms (helminths) have evolved cunning strategies to manipulate the host immune system, some of which may lead to protection from immune dysregulatory diseases such as allergy. Thus, loss of exposure to helminths due to a highly hygienic life style might have contributed to the fact that living in an industrialized country is being associated with an increased prevalence of allergic diseases. However, it must be pointed out that certain helminth infections can in fact induce an allergic phenotype. Factors such as different parasite species, timing of infection in relation to allergic sensitization, or duration and intensity of infection may influence the association between helminth infections and the development or clinical course of allergic disease. In the present article, we review studies that have explored the interaction between helminth infections and allergy in epidemiological and experimental studies. Furthermore, the possibility of using helminths or helminth-derived molecules for the treatment of allergic diseases is discussed with a focus on evidence from clinical trials.
During the past 10 years, many exciting and important studies have found that certain helminth infections protect against the development of allergic diseases. Not surprisingly, several clinical trials investigated the effects of deliberate exposure to parasites like porcine whipworm (Trichuris suis) or hookworm (Necator americanus) to develop “helminth therapies”. Although they proved to be a safe option to control aberrant inflammation, the final goal is to identify the parasite-derived immunnomodulatory molecules responsible for protective effects.