Gut mucus component helps protect from parasitic worms
26 May 2011
A component of gut mucus present in some people plays a
crucial role in expelling parasitic intestinal worms. It could be the
reason why some people can recover from infection better.
The discovery by scientists at Manchester University could lead to
new therapies for up to one billion people that are infected by the
Parasitic worms are a major cause of mortality and morbidity
affecting up to a billion people, particularly in the Third World,
as well as domestic pets and livestock across the globe. The
University of Manchester researchers have, for the first time,
identified a key component of mucus found in the guts of humans and
animals that is toxic to worms.
“These parasitic worms live in the gut, which is protected by a
thick layer of mucus,” explained Dr David Thornton, from the
University’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Matrix Research. “The
mucus barrier is not just slime, but a complex mixture of salts,
water and large ‘sugar-coated’ proteins called mucins that give
mucus its gel–like properties.
“In order to be able to study
these debilitating worm diseases, we have been using a mouse model
in which we try to cure mice of the whipworm Trichuris muris.
This worm is closely related to the human equivalent, Trichuris
“We previously found that mice that were able to expel this whipworm
from the gut made more mucus. Importantly, the mucus from these mice
contained the mucin, Muc5ac. This mucin is rarely present in the
gut, but when it is, it alters the physical properties of the mucus
Co-lead on the study, Professor Richard Grencis, from the Faculty of
Life Sciences, continued: “For this new research, we asked how
important Muc5ac is during worm infection by using mice lacking the
gene for Muc5ac. We found that mice genetically incapable of
producing Muc5ac were unable to expel the worms, despite having a
strong immune response against these parasites. This resulted in
“Furthermore, we discovered the reason for the importance of Muc5ac
is that it is ‘toxic’ for the worms and damages their health.”
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine and
featured in Nature’s ‘research highlights’ today (Thursday), found
that Muc5ac is also essential for the efficient expulsion from the
gut of other types of worm that cause problems in humans. These
include the hookworm, and the spiral threadworm. Together, these
worms cause mortality and morbidity in up to one billion people
across the globe.
Dr Sumaira Hasnain, the lead experimentalist on the project, added:
“For the first time, we have discovered that a single component of
the mucus barrier, the Muc5ac mucin, is essential for worm
expulsion. Our research may help to identify who is and who isn’t
susceptible to parasitic worms, and it may eventually lead to new
treatments for people with chronic worm infections.”
Sumaira Z. Hasnain, Christopher M. Evans, Michelle Roy, Amanda L.
Gallagher, Kristen N. Kindrachuk, Luke Barron, Burton F. Dickey,
Mark S. Wilson, Thomas A. Wynn, Richard K. Grencis and David J.
Thornton. Muc5ac: a critical component mediating the rejection of
enteric nematodes. Journal of Experimental Medicine