Microbiome composition of children infected with helminths

Schistosoma  parasite worm, otherwise known as a blood fluke.

Schistosoma parasite worm, otherwise known as a blood fluke.

While much has been explored regarding the microbiome’s role in nutrition and immunology, more research is needed in uncovering interactions between the host microbiome and infection as this represents a high unmet medical need.  A few weeks ago we talked about a study that describes an interesting relationship between helminth infection and sensitivity to insulin in Indonesia.  Helminth infections are also prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where many children become exposed to Schistosoma haematobium, causing schistosomes and dramatically affecting childhood health and development.  Researchers from Africa sought to investigate whether there were significant differences in microbiome composition between children who were infected with S. haematobium and those who were not.  Furthermore, investigators explored whether praziquantel (PZQ) – an effective agent that kills schistosome worms – has any influence on the human microbiome composition of infected patients. 

Stool samples were collected from 139 pediatric patients from six months to 13 years old, and groups were segregated following proper diagnosis of S. haematobium infection.  DNA was extracted from the samples and microbiota were characterized using 16S rRNA sequencing.  Overall microbiota compositions were similar across sex and all age groups, and Bacteroidetes phyla were found to be most abundant.  However, there was a significant difference in operational taxonomic unit (OUT) microbiota clusters (a measurement that categorizes bacteria colonies) between infected and non-infected groups.

In the next experiment, researchers investigated the microbiomes in the 62 patients who took the PZQ therapy, comparing microbiota after 12 weeks of treatment to their baseline compositions (i.e., prior to PZQ administration).  Interestingly, there was no statistical difference in microbiota composition in patients between pre and post administration time points. 

Though this study did not necessarily present breakthrough findings, the researchers presented more data that will assist doctors and clinicians to better understand helminth infection with respect to the microbiome.  Learning more about the exact differences in microbiota composition between infected and non-infected children will advance our understanding of interactions that could potentially lead to a novel and much-needed therapy.  

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