Interactions between worm infections and malaria

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Abstract

Helminths are the most prevalent parasitic infections and malaria is the deadliest parasitic disease. Helminths have been reported to be protective against the severe forms of malaria but they were also possibly linked to increased malaria-incidence and gametocyte carriage. Connecting the dots between observations suggests that statistical regularities throughout the evolution of worms and malaria parasites in the same hosts, may have led to the emergence of non-zero interactions as observed in iterated prisoners dilemma games. Thus by protecting the host, helminths protect themselves and their reproductive potential, but also favor the dissemination and reproduction of Plasmodium falciparum. The proximate causes of this evolutionarily stable strategy might be mediated by IgE and the CD23/NO pathway, the protective role of IL10 in helminth-infected patients, and possibly the hematological consequences of worms. The chronic activation of the CD23/NO pathway might be instrumental in down-regulating the expression of cytoadherence receptors thus reducing sequestration of parasitized red blood cells in the deep organs. Mild anemia in helminth-infected patients might favor gametocytogenesis and send attractive cues to the vector.

This framework leads to numerous testable hypotheses and could explain certain singularities regarding the double edged role of IgE and NO. Among these hypotheses, there are 2 practical ones: the impact of helminths on malaria vaccine candidates, and the theoretical risk of increasing the severity of malaria after anthelmintics. The capacity for increased IgE responses could thus have been vital in our ancestor's wormy and malarious past. Allergies may be what remains of it in the modern world.