Original Paper

Parasitology Research

, Volume 105, Issue 6, pp 1531-1538

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Criteria for the differentiation between young and old Onchocerca volvulus filariae

  • Sabine SpechtAffiliated withInstitute for Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology, University Hospital Bonn Email author 
  • , Norbert BrattigAffiliated withBernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine
  • , Marcelle BüttnerAffiliated withBernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine
  • , Dietrich W. BüttnerAffiliated withBernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine


Drugs exist that show long-lasting inhibition of embryogenesis and microfilaria production or macrofilaricidal activity against Onchocerca volvulus. Therefore, the patients have to be followed-up for several years. Clinical drug trials have to be performed in areas with ongoing transmission to assess the efficacy on younger worms. In addition, future vaccine trials may also require demonstrating efficacy against establishment of new worms. For the evaluation of the efficacy, it is necessary to differentiate between older worms, which were exposed to the drug, and younger worms newly acquired after drug treatment or vaccination. Here, we describe criteria for the differentiation between young and old filariae based on histological studies of worms with a known age from travellers, or from children, or patients living in areas with interrupted transmission in Burkina Faso, Ghana or Uganda. Older worms were larger and presented degenerated tissues. Gomori's iron stain showed that the worms accumulated more iron with increasing age, first in the gut and later in other organs. Using an antibody against O. volvulus lysosomal aspartic protease, the gut of young worms was stained only weakly; whereas, it was stronger labelled in older worms, accompanied by additional staining of hypodermis and epithelia. Using morphological and immunohistological criteria, it was possible to differentiate young (1–3 years old) from older females and to identify young males.