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Research links asthma, hookworms and dust mites in lung disease

A newly found cell points the way towards explaining why dust mites and hookworms can be considered the same thing by the human immune system. Exposure to either animal can result in an assault on lungs and asthma. For hookworms the journey into the lungs is an important part of their life cycle. For scavenging dust mites, digestive enzymes found in their droppings cause lung cell death and a breach in defences. For some allergy patients these pests may be considered equal and unwanted parasites, and react appropriately.
The newly discovered cell, named nuocyte, is a key early source of interleukin 13 (IL-13). IL-13 is a crucial immune chemical created during hookworm infestation and in the asthma response to triggers such as dust mites. Too much IL-13 can cause lung inflammation by creating excessive nuocytes. Therefore, nuocytes represent a previously missing link in the critical immune pathway that is turned on during asthma attacks. In the research the scientists have been able to turn this innate and protective immune activity on and off by manipulating genes in mice. For people with mite related allergy, asthma, eczema, rhinitis, or conjunctivitis or any combination of these conditions this novel finding is important because it shows why dust mite exposure can be misconstrued as a hookworm infection that needs to be expelled.

The research, collaboration between Asthma UK, Medical Research Council Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin, may result in treatments to end mite related asthma. Dr Elaine Vickers, Research Relations Manager at Asthma UK, said: 'This exciting breakthrough is a real leap forward in our understanding of the immune system and how it can become oversensitive, causing the symptoms of asthma'. Asthma costs the UK taxpayer over 1 billion each year and kills three people each day. Worldwide statistics are not known. Hookworms infest billions of people causing disease on a global scale. Professor Padraic Fallon, who headed the research in Ireland said: 'This development also sheds new light on the response to parasitic infections and could provide insights into poverty-related diseases worldwide'.


1.'Nippostrongylus brasiliensis' infection leads to the development of emphysema associated with the induction of alternatively activated macrophages', Marsland BJ, Kurrer M, Reismann R, Harris NL, Kopf M, Eur J Immunol. 2008 Feb;38 (2):479-88.

2.'Nuocytes represent a new innate effector leukocyte that mediates type-2 immunity', Neill DR et a; Nature 464, 1367-1370 (29th April 2010) doi;10.1038/nature08900; Received 1 December 2009; Accepted 12 February 2010: Published online 3 March 2010.

3.The work was led by Dr Andrew McKenzie from MRC Cambridge and Professor Padraic Fallon, and Trinity College Dublin, 'Scientific Discovery gives new hope to asthma sufferers', 'Trinity News', Kate Palmer, March 23rd 2010

4. 'Discovery of new immune cells offers hope of asthma treatment, 'Asthma UK on-line';, 10 March 2010