Systemic profile of immune factors in an elderly Italian population affected by chronic strongyloidiasis
Background: Strongyloidiasis caused by Strongyloides stercoralis is a soil-transmitted helminthiasis affecting an estimated 370 million people and considered one of the most neglected tropical diseases. Although mostly distributed in tropical and subtropical areas, autochthonous infections have also been documented in northeastern Italy, even though the transmission presumably stopped decades ago. Because of its peculiar auto-infective cycle, strongyloidiasis can persist lifelong, but the pathophysiological mechanisms associated with the maintenance of such a chronic infection are yet to be fully deciphered. Methods: Serum levels of 23 immune factors were retrospectively assessed in a subgroup of participants in a randomised clinical trial for the treatment of strongyloidiasis (Strong Treat). Here we included Italian subjects born between 1931 and 1964 and diagnosed with strongyloidiasis between 2013 and 2017 (Ss+, n = 32). Serum samples obtained before (BT) and 6 months (6M AT) after ivermectin treatment, as well as from age- and gender-matched uninfected controls (CTRL, n = 34) were analysed. Results: The assessed immune factors showed a general reduced concertation in Ss+ patients and a lack of association with eosinophilia. In our cohort, we did not observe the classical shift towards a type 2 immune response, since Th1 and Th2 cytokines were mostly unaltered. Instead, we observed chemokines as particularly affected by the presence of the parasite, since IL-8, CCL3, CCL4 and CCL5 were significantly reduced in concentration in Ss+ subjects compared to CTRL, suggesting that immune cell recruitment to the infection site might be dampened in these patients. This observation was further sustained by a significant increase of CCL4, CCL5 and CCL11 concentrations 6M AT. A significant raised systemic concentration of three growth factors, bFGF, PDGF-BB and IL-7 (haematopoietic growth factor) was also observed post-treatment, indicating a potential involvement in restoring tissue integrity and homeostasis following parasite elimination. Conclusions: These preliminary data suggest that, in order to survive for such a long period, S. stercoralis might suppress host responses that could otherwise result in its ejection. Our results offer novel insights in the potential mechanisms of disease tolerance that might take place during this chronic infection, including a potential T-cell hypo-responsiveness and a role for chemokines.