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The right response at the right time: Exploring helminth immune modulation in sticklebacks by experimental coinfection

Piecyk, Agnes, Ritter, Marc, Kalbe, Martin
Molecular ecology 2019 v.28 no.10 pp. 2668-2680
Diplostomum, Gasterosteus aculeatus, Schistocephalus, T-lymphocytes, complement, eyes, flukes, gene expression, genes, helminthiasis, host-parasite relationships, hosts, immune response, immunomodulation, mixed infection, models
Parasites are one of the strongest selective agents in nature. They select for hosts that evolve counter‐adaptive strategies to cope with infection. Helminth parasites are special because they can modulate their hosts’ immune responses. This phenomenon is important in epidemiological contexts, where coinfections may be affected. How different types of hosts and helminths interact with each other is insufficiently investigated. We used the three‐spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) – Schistocephalus solidus model to study mechanisms and temporal components of helminth immune modulation. Sticklebacks from two contrasting populations with either high resistance (HR) or low resistance (LR) against S. solidus, were individually exposed to S. solidus strains with characteristically high growth (HG) or low growth (LG) in G. aculeatus. We determined the susceptibility to another parasite, the eye fluke Diplostomum pseudospathaceum, and the expression of 23 key immune genes at three time points after S. solidus infection. D. pseudospathaceum infection rates and the gene expression responses depended on host and S. solidus type and changed over time. Whereas the effect of S. solidus type was not significant after three weeks, T regulatory responses and complement components were upregulated at later time points if hosts were infected with HG S. solidus. HR hosts showed a well orchestrated immune response, which was absent in LR hosts. Our results emphasize the role of regulatory T cells and the timing of specific immune responses during helminth infections. This study elucidates the importance to consider different coevolutionary trajectories and ecologies when studying host‐parasite interactions.