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Cytokine responses to Schistosoma haematobium in a Zimbabwean population: contrasting profiles for IFN-γ, IL-4, IL-5 and IL-10 with age

Francisca Mutapi1*, Georgina Winborn1, Nicholas Midzi2, Matthew Taylor1, Takafira Mduluza3 and Rick M Maizels1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Immunology & Infection Research, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Ashworth Laboratories, King's Buildings, West Mains Rd, Edinburgh, EH9 3JT, UK

2 National Institute of Health Research, Box CY 570, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe

3 Department of Biochemistry, University of Zimbabwe, P.O. Box 167, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2007, 7:139  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-7-139

Published: 28 November 2007



The rate of development of parasite-specific immune responses can be studied by following their age profiles in exposed and infected hosts. This study determined the cytokine-age profiles of Zimbabweans resident in a Schistosoma haematobium endemic area and further investigated the relationship between the cytokine responses and infection intensity.


Schistosome adult worm antigen-specific IFN-γ, IL-4, IL-5 and IL-10 cytokine responses elicited from whole blood cultures were studied in 190 Zimbabweans exposed to S. haematobium infection (aged 6 to 40 years old). The cytokines were measured using capture ELISAs and the data thus obtained together with S. haematobium egg count data from urine assays were analysed using a combination of parametric and nonparametric statistical approaches.


Age profiles of schistosome infection in the study population showed that infection rose to peak in childhood (11–12 years) followed by a sharp decline in infection intensity while prevalence fell more gradually. Mean infection intensity was 37 eggs/10 ml urine (SE 6.19 eggs/10 ml urine) while infection prevalence was 54.7%. Measurements of parasite-specific cytokine responses showed that IL-4, IL-5 and IL-10 but not IFN-γ followed distinct age-profiles. Parasite-specific IL-10 production developed early, peaking in the youngest age group and declining thereafter; while IL-4 and IL-5 responses were slower to develop with a later peak. High IL-10 producers were likely to be egg positive with IL-10 production increasing with increasing infection intensity. Furthermore people producing high levels of IL-10 produced little or no IL-5, suggesting that IL-10 may be involved in the regulation of IL-5 levels. IL-4 and IFN-γ did not show a significant relationship with infection status or intensity and were positively associated with each other.


Taken together, these results show that the IL-10 responses develop early compared to the IL-5 response and may be down-modulating immunopathological responses that occur during the early phase of infection. The results further support current suggestions that the Th1/Th2 dichotomy does not sufficiently explain susceptibility or resistance to schistosome infection.