The adaptive immune response to Trichuris in wild versus laboratory mice: An established model system in context

Iris Mair, Jonathan Fenn, Andrew Wolfenden, Ann E Lowe, Alex Bennett, Andrew Muir, Jacob Thompson, Olive Dieumerci, Larisa Logunova, Susanne Shultz, Janette E. Bradley, Kathryn Else

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Laboratory model organisms have provided a window into how the immune system functions. An increasing body of evidence, however, suggests that the immune responses of naive laboratory animals may differ substantially to those of their wild counterparts. Past exposure, environmental challenges and physiological condition may all impact on immune responsiveness. Chronic infections of soil-transmitted helminths, which we define as establishment of adult, fecund worms, impose significant health burdens on humans, livestock and wildlife, with limited treatment success. In laboratory mice, Th1 versus Th2 immune polarisation is the major determinant of helminth infection outcome. Here we compared antigen-specific immune responses to the soil-transmitted whipworm <i>Trichuris muris</i> between controlled laboratory and wild free-ranging populations of house mice (<i>Mus musculus domesticus</i>). Wild mice harbouring chronic, low-level infections produced lower levels of cytokines in response to <i>Trichuris</i> antigen than laboratory-housed C57BL/6 mice. Wild mouse effector/memory CD4+ T cell phenotype reflected the antigen-specific cytokine response across the Th1/Th2 spectrum. Increasing worm burden was associated with body condition loss. However, local Trichuris-specific Th1/Th2 balance was positively associated with worm burden only in older wild mice. Thus, although the fundamental relationships between the CD4+ T helper cell response and resistance to <i>T. muris</i> infection are similar in both laboratory and wild <i>M. m. domesticus</i>, there are quantitative differences and age-specific effects that are analogous to human immune responses. These context-dependent immune responses demonstrate the fundamental importance of understanding the differences between model and natural systems for translating mechanistic models to ‘real world’ immune function.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPL o S Pathogens
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 13 Mar 2024


  • Trichuris muris
  • ecoimmunology
  • wild mice
  • immunoparasitology
  • immune variation
  • cytokines
  • disease susceptibility
  • helminth parasites
  • infection


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