The hygiene theory harnessing helminths and their ova to treat autoimmunity

Dana Ben-Ami Shor, Michal Harel, Rami Eliakim, Yehuda Shoenfeld*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The incidence of autoimmune diseases is increasing in Western countries, possibly due to the improved sanitary conditions and reduced exposure to infections in childhood (the hygiene hypothesis). There is an ongoing debate whether infection prevents or precipitates autoimmune diseases. Various helminths species used in several animal models were shown to limit inflammatory activity in a variety of diseases including inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus. At present the scientific data is based mostly on experimental animal models; however, there is an increasing body of evidence in a number of clinical trials being conducted. Herein we review several clinical trials evaluating the anti-inflammatory effects of helminths and assessing their association with different autoimmune diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune liver diseases. We also describe the common pathways by which helminths induce immune modulation and the key changes observed in the host immune system following exposure to helminths. These common pathways include the inhibition of IFN-γ and IL-17 production, promotion of IL-4, IL-10 and TGF-β release, induction of CD4(+) T cell FoxP3+ expression, and generation of regulatory macrophages, dendritic cells, and B cells. Helminths products are becoming significant candidates for anti-inflammatory agents in this context. However, further research is needed for synthetic analogues of helminths' potent products that mimic the parasite-mediated immunomodulation effect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-216
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Reviews in Allergy and Immunology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2013


  • Autoimmune
  • Autoimmune liver diseases
  • Helminth
  • Hygiene
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Type 1 diabetes


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