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Nature and nurture: overcoming constraints on immunity

  • D. Wakelin (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 April 2009

Parasitic infections in man and domestic animals exhibit two striking characteristics (a) their prevalence is high, but infections are unequally distributed among individuals within populations and (b) immunity is often slow to develop and appears, at best, only partially effective. Recent immunological and epidemiological studies suggest that effective immunity can develop, but that high prevalence within populations reflects the operation, not only of socio-economic and climatic factors, or husbandry practices, but also of powerful environmentally induced constraints upon the development of resistance. Immunogenetic studies suggest the operation of additional constraints which reflect individual genetic characteristics, and which influence the ability to develop and express effective immunity. A full understanding of all constraints is necessary before levels of population and individual resistance to infection can be increased; the need for such understanding has become more pressing with the prospect that anti-parasite vaccines may become available. Two aspects of environmentally induced constraints are considered, those arising from nutritional inadequacies and those resulting from exposure to infection in early life. Both are discussed primarily in terms of helminth parasites. Genetically determined constraints are discussed with reference to MHC-restricted recognition of malarial peptide vaccines and in terms of Class II molecule-directed control of T-cell function in Leishmania infections. Genetic influences are also considered from the standpoint of inflammatory cell function, in immunity against intestinal nematodes and in vaccine-induced immunity against Schistosoma. Finally, parasite-induced constraints, particularly those which down-regulate protective responses are discussed briefly.

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