Transforming growth factor-beta expression by host cells is elicited locally by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus in hyporeactive patients independently from Wolbachia.
Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) is a key cytokine in immune regulation, cell differentiation, development, wound healing, and tissue remodelling. It mediates immunosuppression in filarial infections facilitating parasite persistence, while attenuating immunopathology, which is induced by migrating microfilariae. Immunosuppression rises with parasite burden, but it remains unknown whether filariae elicit local release of immunosuppressive cytokines. Therefore, using immunohistology, we investigated the expression of stable, released latent TGF-beta1 in subcutaneous nodules from highly infected, hyporeactive onchocerciasis patients, harbouring adult Onchocerca volvulus. Since many cell types produce TGF-beta, we elucidated the cellular source, distribution and dependency on the worms sex, productivity and vitality. We found TGF-beta1 to be abundantly expressed by T cells, plasma/B cells, macrophages, mast cells, fibrocytes, and vascular endothelial cells, particularly in onchocercomas with productive or previously productive females, damaged, dead and resorbed adult worms or microfilariae. We conclude TGF-beta to be antigen induced by the filariae since expression was scarce around subcutaneous arthropods or cholesterol crystals in onchocercomas. Enhanced expression after ivermectin or endobacteria-depleting doxycycline treatment indicates induction to depend on filariae and not on Wolbachia endobacteria. TGF-beta(+) cells were reduced in HIV co-infection. This finding of local and sustained TGF-beta induction by vital and dead filariae, untreated and after treatment, adds new aspects to immunomodulation by helminths.