Onchocerciasis transmitted by Onchocerca volvulus is the second major cause of blindness in the world and it impacts negatively on the socio-economic development of the communities affected. Currently, ivermectin, a microfilaricidal drug is the only drug recommended for treating this disease. There have been speculations, of late, concerning O. volvulus resistance to ivermectin. Owing to this, it has become imperative to search for new drugs. World-wide, ethnomedicines including extracts of Euphorbia hirta and Rauvolfia vomitoria are used for treating various diseases, both infectious and non-infectious.
In this study extracts of the two plants were evaluated in vitro in order to determine their effect against O. volvulus microfilariae. The toxicity of the E. hirta extracts on monkey kidney cell (LLCMK2) lines was also determined.
The investigations showed that extracts of both plants immobilised microfilariae at different levels in vitro and, therefore, possess antifilarial properties. It was found that all the E. hirta extracts with the exception of the hexane extracts were more effective than those of R. vomitoria. Among the extracts of E. hirta the ethyl acetate fraction was most effective, and comparable to that of dimethanesulphonate salt but higher than that of Melarsoprol (Mel B). However, the crude ethanolic extract of E. hirta was found to be the least toxic to the LLCMK2 compared to the fractionated forms.
Extracts from both plants possess antifilarial properties; however, the crude extract of E. hirta was found to be least toxic to LLCMK2.
Euphorbia hirta; Rauvolfia vomitoria; Onchocerca volvulus; Microfilariae; In vitro
Human onchocerciasis, caused by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus, is controlled almost exclusively by the drug ivermectin, which prevents pathology by targeting the microfilariae. However, this reliance on a single control tool has led to interest in vaccination as a potentially complementary strategy. Here, we describe the results of a trial in West Africa to evaluate a multivalent, subunit vaccine for onchocerciasis in the naturally evolved host-parasite relationship of Onchocerca ochengi in cattle. Naïve calves, reared in fly-proof accommodation, were immunised with eight recombinant antigens of O. ochengi, administered separately with either Freund's adjuvant or alum. The selected antigens were orthologues of O. volvulus recombinant proteins that had previously been shown to confer protection against filarial larvae in rodent models and, in some cases, were recognised by serum antibodies from putatively immune humans. The vaccine was highly immunogenic, eliciting a mixed IgG isotype response. Four weeks after the final immunisation, vaccinated and adjuvant-treated control calves were exposed to natural parasite transmission by the blackfly vectors in an area of Cameroon hyperendemic for O. ochengi. After 22 months, all the control animals had patent infections (i.e., microfilaridermia), compared with only 58% of vaccinated cattle (P = 0.015). This study indicates that vaccination to prevent patent infection may be an achievable goal in onchocerciasis, reducing both the pathology and transmissibility of the infection. The cattle model has also demonstrated its utility for preclinical vaccine discovery, although much research will be required to achieve the requisite target product profile of a clinical candidate.
River blindness, or onchocerciasis, is caused by a parasitic worm (Onchocerca volvulus) that is transmitted by blood-feeding blackflies, which breed in fast-flowing rivers. More than 37 million people are infected and may experience visual impairment and/or severe dermatitis. Control of onchocerciasis is largely dependent on a single drug, ivermectin. Whilst this is extremely effective at killing the worms' offspring (microfilariae) and preventing symptoms, ivermectin does not eliminate the long-lived adult parasites or always stop transmission. Consequently, treatments must be repeated for many years, and drug resistance may be emerging. Against this background, a vaccine against onchocerciasis would provide an important additional tool to sustain effective control. In this study, we evaluated eight worm antigens as vaccine components in cattle, which are often parasitized by O. ochengi (the closest relative of O. volvulus) in West Africa. Twelve uninfected animals received all eight antigens and were exposed to natural transmission of O. ochengi alongside 13 unvaccinated cattle. After almost two years, 92% of vaccinated animals had acquired adult worms, but only 58% were positive for microfilariae; whereas 100% of unvaccinated animals harboured both parasite stages. This suggests that a vaccine against microfilariae to prevent development of disease in humans may be achievable.
Ivermectin (IVM) has been used in Ghana for over two decades for onchocerciasis control. In recent years there have been reports of persistent microfilaridermias despite multiple treatments. This has necessitated a reexamination of its microfilaricidal and suppressive effects on reproduction in the adult female Onchocerca volvulus. In an initial study, we demonstrated the continued potent microfilaricidal effect of IVM. However, we also found communities in which the skin microfilarial repopulation rates at days 90 and 180 were much higher than expected. In this follow up study we have investigated the reproductive response of female worms to multiple treatments with IVM.
Methods and Findings
The parasitological responses to IVM in two hundred and sixty-eight microfilaridermic subjects from nine communities that had received 10 to 19 annual doses of IVM treatment and one pre-study IVM-naïve community were followed. Skin snips were taken 364 days after the initial IVM treatment during the study to determine the microfilaria (mf) recovery rate. Nodules were excised and skin snips taken 90 days following a second study IVM treatment. Nodule and worm density and the reproductive status of female worms were determined. On the basis of skin mf repopulation and skin mf recovery rates we defined three categories of response—good, intermediate and poor—and also determined that approximately 25% of subjects in the study carried adult female worms that responded suboptimally to IVM. Stratification of the female worms by morphological age and microfilarial content showed that almost 90% of the worms were older or middle aged and that most of the mf were produced by the middle aged and older worms previously exposed to multiple treatments with little contribution from young worms derived from ongoing transmission.
The results confirm that in some communities adult female worms were non-responsive or resistant to the anti-fecundity effects of multiple treatments with IVM. A scheme of the varied responses of the adult female worm to multiple treatments is proposed.
Onchocerciasis, commonly known as river blindness, is caused by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus and is transmitted by a blackfly vector. Over 37 million people are thought to be infected, with over 90 million at risk. Infection predominantly occurs in sub-Saharan Africa. Foci also exist in the Arabian Peninsula and Central and South America. Ivermectin, the sole pharmaceutical available for mass chemotherapy, has been used on a community basis for annual or semi-annual treatment since 1987. Multiple treatments with ivermectin kill the microfilariae that are responsible for the pathology of onchocerciasis. More importantly, ivermectin suppresses the reproductive activity of the adult female worms, thus delaying or preventing the repopulation of the skin with new microfilariae and thereby reducing transmission. This study extends earlier reports of sub-optimal responses to ivermectin by examining repopulation levels of microfilaria one year after treatment, worm burdens per nodule, the age structure of adult female worms recovered from nodules, and the reproductive status of adult female worms 90 days after ivermectin treatment. In some communities which have shown a pattern of sub-optimal response to treatment, the data is consistent with an emergence of ivermectin non response or resistance manifested by a loss of the effect of ivermectin on the suppression of parasite reproduction.
Human onchocerciasis or river blindness, caused by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus, is currently controlled using the microfilaricidal drug, ivermectin. However, ivermectin does not kill adult O. volvulus, and in areas with less than 65% ivermectin coverage of the population, there is no effect on transmission. Therefore, there is still a need for a macrofilaricidal drug. Using the bovine filarial nematode O. ochengi (found naturally in African cattle), the macrofilaricidal efficacy of the modified flubendazole, UMF-078, was investigated.
Groups of 3 cows were treated with one of the following regimens: (a) a single dose of UMF-078 at 150 mg/kg intramuscularly (im), (b) 50 mg/kg im, (c) 150 mg/kg intraabomasally (ia), (d) 50 mg/kg ia, or (e) not treated (controls).
After treatment at 150 mg/kg im, nodule diameter, worm motility and worm viability (as measured by metabolic reduction of tetrazolium to formazan) declined significantly compared with pre-treatment values and concurrent controls. There was abrogation of embryogenesis and death of all adult worms by 24 weeks post-treatment (pt). Animals treated at 50 mg/kg im showed a decline in nodule diameter together with abrogated reproduction, reduced motility, and lower metabolic activity in isolated worms, culminating in approximately 50% worm mortality by 52 weeks pt. Worms removed from animals treated ia were not killed, but exhibited a temporary embryotoxic effect which had waned by 12 weeks pt in the 50 mg/kg ia group and by 24 weeks pt in the 150 mg/kg ia group. These differences could be explained by the different absorption rates and elimination half-lives for each dose and route of administration.
Although we did not observe any signs of mammalian toxicity in this trial with a single dose, other studies have raised concerns regarding neuro- and genotoxicity. Consequently, further evaluation of this compound has been suspended. Nonetheless, these results validate the molecular target of the benzimidazoles as a promising lead for rational design of macrofilaricidal drugs.
Onchocerca volvulus is the causative agent of
onchocerciasis, or “river blindness”. Ivermectin has
been used for mass treatment of onchocerciasis for up to 18 years, and
recently there have been reports of poor parasitological responses to the
drug. Should ivermectin resistance be developing, it would have a genetic
basis. We monitored genetic changes in parasites obtained from the same
patients before use of ivermectin and following different levels of
Methods and Findings
O. volvulus adult worms were obtained from 73 patients
before exposure to ivermectin and in the same patients following three years
of annual or three-monthly treatment at 150 µg/kg or 800
µg/kg. Genotype frequencies were determined in
β-tubulin, a gene previously found to be linked
to ivermectin selection and resistance in parasitic nematodes. Such
frequencies were also determined in two other genes, heat shock
protein 60 and acidic ribosomal protein, not
known to be linked to ivermectin effects. In addition, we investigated the
relationship between β-tubulin genotype and female
parasite fertility. We found a significant selection for
β-tubulin heterozygotes in female worms. There
was no significant selection for the two other genes. Quarterly ivermectin
treatment over three years reduced the frequency of the
β-tubulin “aa” homozygotes
from 68.6% to 25.6%, while the
“ab” heterozygotes increased from 20.9% to
69.2% in the female parasites. The female worms that were
homozygous at the β-tubulin locus were more fertile
than the heterozygous female worms before treatment (67% versus
37%; p = 0.003)
and twelve months after the last dose of ivermectin in the groups treated
annually (60% versus 17%;
p<0.001). Differences in fertility between
heterozygous and homozygous worms were less apparent three months after the
last treatment in the groups treated three-monthly.
The results indicate that ivermectin is causing genetic selection on
O. volvulus. This genetic selection is associated with
a lower reproductive rate in the female parasites. We hypothesize that this
genetic selection indicates that a population of O.
volvulus, which is more tolerant to ivermectin, is being selected.
This selection could have implications for the development of ivermectin
resistance in O. volvulus and for the ongoing
onchocerciasis control programmes.
Onchocerca volvulus is the causative agent of onchocerciasis, or
“river blindness”. Ivermectin has been used for mass
treatment of onchocerciasis for up to 18 years, and recently there have been
reports of poor parasitological responses to the drug and evidence of drug
resistance. Drug resistance has a genetic basis. In this study, genetic changes
in β-tubulin, a gene associated with ivermectin
resistance in nematodes, were seen in parasites obtained from the patients
exposed to repeated ivermectin treatment compared with parasites obtained from
the same patients before any exposure to ivermectin. Furthermore, the extent of
the genetic changes was dependent on the level of ivermectin treatment exposure.
This genetic selection was associated with a lower reproductive rate in the
female parasites. The data indicates that this genetic selection is for a
population of O. volvulus that is more tolerant to ivermectin.
This selection could have implications for the development of ivermectin
resistance in O. volvulus and for the ongoing onchocerciasis
control programmes. Monitoring for the possible development and spread of
ivermectin resistance, as part of the control programmes, should be implemented
so that any foci of resistant parasites can be treated by alternative control
Ivermectin has been the keystone of onchocerciasis control for the last 25 years. Sub-optimal responses to the drug have been reported in Ghanaian communities under long-term treatment. We assessed, in two Cameroonian foci, whether the microfilaricidal and/or embryostatic effects of ivermectin on Onchocerca volvulus have been altered after several years of drug pressure.
We compared the dynamics of O. volvulus skin microfilarial densities after ivermectin treatment in two cohorts with contrasting exposure to this drug: one received repeated treatment for 13 years whereas the other had no history of large-scale treatments (referred to as controls). Microfilarial densities were assessed 15, 80 and 180 days after ivermectin in 122 multiply treated and 127 ivermectin-naïve individuals. Comparisons were adjusted for individual factors related to microfilarial density: age and number of nodules.
Two weeks post ivermectin, microfilarial density dropped equally (98% reduction) in the ivermectin-naïve and multiply treated groups. Between 15 and 180 days post ivermectin, the proportion of individuals with skin microfilariae doubled (from 30.8% to 67.8%) in controls and quadrupled (from 19.8% to 76.9%) in multiply treated individuals but the mean densities remained low in both sites. In fact, between 15 and 80 days, the repopulation rate was significantly higher in the multiply treated individuals than in the controls but no such difference was demonstrated when extending the follow-up to 180 days. The repopulation rate by microfilariae was associated with host factors: negatively with age and positively with the number of nodules.
These observations may indicate that the worms from the multi-treated area recover mf productivity earlier but would be less productive than the worms from the ivermectin-naïve area between 80 and 180 days after ivermectin. Moreover, they do not support the operation of a strong cumulative effect of repeated treatments on the fecundity of female worms as previously described.
Millions of Africans and thousands of Latin Americans are infected with Onchocerca volvulus, the filarial worm responsible for onchocerciasis. Since the mid-1990s, control programs rely on annual or six-monthly community treatments with the only safe drug available, ivermectin. If sustained for another 10–15 years, this strategy could lead to elimination of onchocerciasis. Unfortunately, there have been reports of low response to the drug in Ghanaian communities under long-term treatment. Here, we compared the response of O. volvulus to ivermectin between a Cameroonian population repeatedly treated and an ivermectin-naïve population. Skin parasite density was assessed before and 15, 80 and 180 days after treatment. Parasite density dropped equally in the two groups (∼98% reduction) by 15 days, in accordance with the expected effect of ivermectin at this time point. In the multi-treated subjects, the repopulation rate of the skin by microfilariae was higher than in the controls from 15 to 80 days after treatment but the microfilarial levels reached similar levels six months after treatment in the two groups. Thirteen years of large-scale treatments may have selected worms less sensitive to the drug. In addition, those treatments had little if any cumulative effect on skin parasite repopulation after an additional treatment.
Human onchocerciasis, also known as River Blindness, is a debilitating disease caused by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus. Many, but not all, filarial nematodes carry within their tissues endosymbiotic, Rickettsia-like bacteria of the genus Wolbachia. Onchocerca spp. infections in cattle offer the most relevant, analogous host–parasite model system. West African cattle are commonly co-infected with four Onchocerca spp.; two of these are Wolbachia-positive (Onchocerca gutturosa and Onchocerca ochengi), and the remainder are of unknown Wolbachia status (Onchocerca dukei and Onchocerca armillata). Previous studies have suggested that worm survival is dependent on this bacterium. O. armillata, an abundant parasite of African cattle that has received little attention, is a primitive species that may lack Wolbachia. The objectives of this study were to determine if O. armillata carries Wolbachia and to provide preliminary descriptions of the host inflammatory cell environment around the adult worms. The findings may support or refute the hypothesis that a prime contribution of Wolbachia is to permit long-term survival and reproduction of certain Onchocerca spp. (including O. volvulus in humans). O. armillata adult worms were found in the aorta of 90.7% of cattle (n = 54) slaughtered at an abattoir in Ngaoundéré, Adamawa Region, Cameroon. The presence of Wolbachia in O. armillata was confirmed by a specific anti-Wolbachia surface protein antibody detected using a peroxidase conjugate (immunohistochemistry) and PCR for detection of Wolbachia-specific sequences within DNA extracts from frozen worms. Tissue sections stained with haematoxylin and eosin showed the host cell response to be dominated by macrophages and fibroblasts. This is unusual compared with nodule-dwelling Wolbachia-positive Onchocerca spp., where the host response is typically characterised by granulocytes, and suggests that the mechanisms for worm survival employed by this species (which is probably motile) may differ.
Bovine; Onchocerca armillata; Wolbachia; Filariasis; Onchocerciasis
Filarial parasites (e.g., Brugia malayi, Onchocerca volvulus, and Wuchereria bancrofti) are causative agents of lymphatic filariasis and onchocerciasis, which are among the most disabling of neglected tropical diseases. There is an urgent need to develop macro-filaricidal drugs, as current anti-filarial chemotherapy (e.g., diethylcarbamazine [DEC], ivermectin and albendazole) can interrupt transmission predominantly by killing microfilariae (mf) larvae, but is less effective on adult worms, which can live for decades in the human host. All medically relevant human filarial parasites appear to contain an obligate endosymbiotic bacterium, Wolbachia. This alpha-proteobacterial mutualist has been recognized as a potential target for filarial nematode life cycle intervention, as antibiotic treatments of filarial worms harboring Wolbachia result in the loss of worm fertility and viability upon antibiotic treatments both in vitro and in vivo. Human trials have confirmed this approach, although the length of treatments, high doses required and medical counter-indications for young children and pregnant women warrant the identification of additional anti-Wolbachia drugs.
Methods and Findings
Genome sequence analysis indicated that enzymes involved in heme biosynthesis might constitute a potential anti-Wolbachia target set. We tested different heme biosynthetic pathway inhibitors in ex vivo B. malayi viability assays and report a specific effect of N-methyl mesoporphyrin (NMMP), which targets ferrochelatase (FC, the last step). Our phylogenetic analysis indicates evolutionarily significant divergence between Wolbachia heme genes and their human homologues. We therefore undertook the cloning, overexpression and analysis of several enzymes of this pathway alongside their human homologues, and prepared proteins for drug targeting. In vitro enzyme assays revealed a ∼600-fold difference in drug sensitivities to succinyl acetone (SA) between Wolbachia and human 5′-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (ALAD, the second step). Similarly, Escherichia coli hemH (FC) deficient strains transformed with human and Wolbachia FC homologues showed significantly different sensitivities to NMMP. This approach enables functional complementation in E. coli heme deficient mutants as an alternative E. coli-based method for drug screening.
Our studies indicate that the heme biosynthetic genes in the Wolbachia of B. malayi (wBm) might be essential for the filarial host survival. In addition, the results suggest they are likely candidate drug targets based upon significant differences in phylogenetic distance, biochemical properties and sensitivities to heme biosynthesis inhibitors, as compared to their human homologues.
Human filarial nematodes are causative agents of elephantiasis and African river blindness, which are among the most debilitating tropical diseases. Currently used drugs mainly affect microfilariae (mf) and have less effect on adult filarial nematodes, which can live in the human host for more than a decade. Filariasis drug control strategy relies on recurrent mass drug administration for many years. Development of novel drugs is also urgently needed due to the threat of drug resistance occurrence. Most filarial worms harbor an obligate endosymbiotic bacterium, Wolbachia, whose presence has been identified as a potential drug target. Comparative genomics had suggested Wolbachia heme biosynthesis as a potential drug target, and we present an analysis of selected enzymes alongside their human homologues from several different aspects—gene phylogenetic analyses, in vitro enzyme kinetic and inhibition assays and heme-deficient E. coli complementation assays. We also conducted ex vivo Brugia malayi viability assays using heme pathway inhibitors. These experiments demonstrate that heme biosynthesis could be critical for filarial worm survival and thus is a potential anti-filarial drug target set.
Filarial nematodes are important and widespread parasites of animals and humans. We have been using the African bovine parasite Onchocerca ochengi as a chemotherapeutic model for O. volvulus, the causal organism of 'river blindness' in humans, for which there is no safe and effective drug lethal to adult worms. Here we report that the antibiotic, oxytetracycline is macrofilaricidal against O. ochengi. In a controlled trial in Cameroon, all adult worms (as well as microfilariae) were killed, and O. ochengi intradermal nodules resolved, by nine months' post-treatment in cattle treated intermittently for six months. Adult worms removed from concurrent controls remained fully viable and reproductively active. By serial electron-microscopic examination, the macrofilaricidal effects were related to the elimination of intracellular micro-organisms, initially abundant. Analysis of a fragment of the 16S rRNA gene from the O. ochengi micro-organisms confirmed them to be Wolbachia organisms of the order Rickettsiales, and showed that the sequence differed in only one nucleotide in 858 from the homologous sequence of the Wolbachia organisms of O. volvulus. These data are, to our knowledge, the first to show that antibiotic therapy can be lethal to adult filariae. They suggest that tetracycline therapy is likely to be macrofilaricidal against O. volvulus infections in humans and, since similar Wolbachia organisms occur in a number of other filarial nematodes, against those infections too. In that the elimination of Wolbachia preceded the resolution of the filarial infections, they suggest that in O. ochengi at least, the Wolbachia organisms play an essential role in the biology and metabolism of the filarial worm.
Onchocerciasis is caused by Onchocerca volvulus and transmitted by Simulium species (black flies). In the Americas, the infection has been previously described in 13 discrete regional foci distributed among six countries (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico and Venezuela) where more than 370,000 people are currently considered at risk. Since 2001, disease control in Venezuela has relied on the mass drug administration to the at-risk communities. This report provides empirical evidence of interruption of Onchocerca volvulus transmission by Simulium metallicum in 510 endemic communities from two Northern foci of Venezuela, after 10–12 years of 6-monthly Mectizan® (ivermectin) treatment to all the eligible residents.
In-depth entomologic and epidemiologic surveys were serially conducted from 2001–2012 in selected (sentinel and extra-sentinel) communities from the North-central (NC) and North-east (NE) onchocerciasis foci of Venezuela in order to monitor the impact of ivermectin treatment.
From 2007–2009, entomological indicators in both foci confirmed that 0 out of 112,637 S. metallicum females examined by PCR contained L3 infection in insect heads. The upper bound of the 95% confidence intervals of the infective rate of the vector reached values below 1% by 2009 (NC) and 2012 (NE). Additionally, after 14 (NC) and 22 (NE) rounds of treatment, the seasonal transmission potential (±UL CIs) of S. metallicum was under the critical threshold of 20 L3 per person per season. Serological analysis in school children < 15 years-old demonstrated that 0 out of 6,590 individuals were harboring antibodies to Ov-16. Finally, epidemiological surveys made during 2010 (NC) and 2012 (NE) showed no evidence of microfilariae in the skin and eyes of the population.
These results meet the WHO criteria for absence of parasite transmission and disease morbidity in these endemic areas which represent 91% of the population previously at-risk in the country. Consequently, the two Northern foci are currently under post-treatment onchocerciasis surveillance status in Venezuela.
Onchocerciasis; Simulium metallicum; Interruption; Ivermectin; Venezuela
Increasing concentrations of levamisole and of mebendazole were applied to 1 eye in groups of 4 patients with ocular onchocerciasis in northern Cameroon. No effect resulted from up to 3.0% mebendazole suspensions, but 3.0% levamisole solutions rapidly caused entry of microfilariae, straightening out and subsequent opacification of previously curled-up living microfilariae, the rapid formation of typical limbal globular infiltrates, and the subsequent formation of fluffy opacities around the microfilariae. These changes are typical of all other drugs so far studied that have a microfilaricidal action on O. volvulus--diethlycarbamizine citrate (DEC), suramin, and metrifonate. The efficacy of 3.0% levamisole approximated to that of 0.03% DEC. This is in keeping with published observations on the filaricidal activity of these 2 compounds. It is suggested that this system of drug testing should be considered for systematic use in the search for more effective and safer drugs for onchocerciasis.
Antigen-specific interleukin-5 (IL-5), gamma interferon (IFN-γ), and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) responses in individuals living in an area of hyperendemicity for onchocerciasis in Cameroon were examined. The responses against antigens prepared from Onchocerca volvulus third-stage larvae (L3), molting L3 (mL3), and crude extract from adult males (M-OvAg) were compared to the responses against antigens from adult female worms and skin microfilariae. Cytokine responses for the putatively immune individuals (PI) and the infected individuals (INF) were compared. A differential cytokine profile of IL-5 (Th2 phenotype) and IFN-γ (Th1 phenotype) was found in these individuals in response to the antigens. In both the PI and the INF, Th2 responses against all the antigens tested were dominant. However, in the PI group as a whole, there was an enhanced Th2 response against the larval antigens and the adult male and adult female antigens, and a Th1 response in a subgroup of the PI (27 to 54.5%) against L3, mL3, and M-OvAg antigens was present. While the PI produced significantly higher levels of GM-CSF against L3, mL3, and M-OvAg antigens than the INF, there was no difference in the GM-CSF responses of the groups against the other antigens. The present study indicated that, in comparison to the INF, the PI have distinct larva-specific and adult male-specific cytokine responses, thus supporting the premise that immunological studies of the PI would lead to the identification of immune mechanisms and the target genes that play a role in protective immunity.
Ov-CHI-1 is a chitinase specifically expressed in the infective stage larvae of the human filarial parasite Onchocerca volvulus. Evidence has show that it could be a vaccine candidate, however, there is no data available regarding the immunological status of people naturally exposed to infective stage larvae and thus provoked by this antigen.
We analysed the Ov-CHI-1-specific immune response present in four endemic foci of human onchocerciasis (Ecuador, Nigeria, Togo and Cameroon) by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays and T-cell proliferation assays.
In these foci of infection, antibodies to Ov-CHI-1 were found to be present in only 22% of individuals from Ecuador, but were detected in 42–62% of infected individuals in the three foci from West Africa (Nigeria, Togo and Cameroon). There was found to be no relationship between antibody level and age, gender, or infection intensity as indicated by microfilarial density and numbers of skin nodules. The isotype response to Ov-CHI-1 was dominated by the presence of IgG3, IgG1 was present to a lesser extent. Our results show a positive correlation between N- and C-termini of Ov-CHI-1 in their ability to provoke humoral and cellular immune responses in the human. Peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) proliferative responses to Ov-CHI-1 when assayed, were found to be significantly higher in the individuals from endemic areas and there was a statistically elevated response to Ov-CHI-1 in the infected individuals when compared to putative immune individuals.
Ov-CHI-1 is an antigen that we have found strongly induces both humoral and cellular immune responses in humans.
This paper reviews the current management of onchocerciasis and its future prospects. Onchocerciasis is a disease affecting millions of people in Africa, South and Central America, and Yemen. It is spread by the blackfly as a vector and caused by the filarial nematode, Onchocerca volvulus. A serious attempt was made by the Onchocerciasis Control Program between 1975 and 2002 to eliminate the vector in eleven of the endemic countries in West Africa, and with remarkable success. Formerly, the treatment was with diethyl carbamazine for the microfilaria and suramin for the adult worm. These drugs are now known to be toxic and unsuitable for mass distribution. In particular, they precipitate optic nerve disease. With the discovery of ivermectin, a much safer microfilaricide, and the decision of Merck to distribute the drug free of charge for as long as needed, the strategy of control switched to mass drug administration through community-directed treatment with ivermectin. So far, millions have received this annual or biannual treatment through the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control and the Onchocerciasis Elimination Program for the Americas. However, the problem with ivermectin is that it is a monotherapy microfilaricide which has limited effect on the adult worm, and thus will need to be continued for the life span of the adult worm, which may last up to 15 years. There are also early reports of resistance. Serious encephalopathy and death may occur when ivermectin is used in subjects heavily infested with loiasis. It seems unlikely that a break in transmission will occur with community-directed treatment with ivermectin in Africa because of population migrations and the highly efficient vector, but in the Americas some countries such as Columbia and the Oaxaca focus in Mexico have reported eradication. Vector control is only now applicable in selected situations, and particularly to control the nuisance value of the blackfly. Trials are ongoing for alternatives to ivermectin. Candidate drugs include moxidectin, a macrofilaricide, doxycycline which targets the Wolbachia endosymbiont, and flubendazole, which shows promise with the newer oral cyclodextrin formulation.
onchocerciasis; river blindness; ocular; management
Ivermectin (Mectizan™, Merck and CO. Inc.) is being widely used in the control of human onchocerciasis (Onchoverca volvulus) because of its potent effect on microfilariae. Human studies have suggested that, at the standard dose of 150 μg/kg an annual treatment schedule of ivermectin reversibly interferes with female worm fertility but is not macrofilaricidal. Because of the importance of determining whether ivermectin could be macrofilaricidal, the efficacy of high and prolonged doses of ivermectin and a related avermectin, doramectin, were investigated in cattle infected with O. ochengi.
Drugs with potential macrofilaricidal activity, were screened for the treatment of human onchocerciasis, using natural infections of O. ochengi in African cattle. Three groups of 3 cows were either treated at monthly intervals (7 treatments) with ivermectin (Ivomec®, Merck and Co. Inc.) at 500 μg/kg or doramectin (Dectamax®, Pfizer) at 500 μg/kg or not treated as controls. Intradermal nodules were removed at 6 monthly intervals and adult worms were examined for signs of drug activity.
There was no significant decline in nodule diameter, the motility of male and female worms, nor in male and female viability as determined by the ability to reduce tetrazolium, compared with controls, at any time up to 24 months from the start of treatments (mpt). Embryogenesis, however, was abrogated by treatment, which was seen as an accumulation of dead and dying intra-uterine microfilariae (mf) persisting for up to 18 mpt. Skin mf densities in treated animals had fallen to zero by <3 mpt, but by 18 mpt small numbers of mf were found in the skin of some treated animals and a few female worms were starting to produce multi-cellular embryonic stages. Follow-up of the doramectin treated group at 36 mpt showed that mf densities had still only regained a small proportion of their pre-treatment levels.
These results have important implications for onchocerciasis control in the field. They suggest that ivermectin given at repeated high does may sterilise O. volvulus female worms for prolonged periods but is unlikely to kill them. This supports the view that control programmes may need to continue treatments with ivermectin for a period of decades and highlights the need to urgently identify new marcofiliaricidal compounds.
The risk of severe adverse events following treatment of onchocerciasis with ivermectin in areas co-endemic with loiasis currently compromises the development of control programmes and the treatment of co-infected individuals. We therefore assessed whether doxycycline treatment could be used without subsequent ivermectin administration to effectively deliver sustained effects on Onchocerca volvulus microfilaridermia and adult viability. Furthermore we assessed the safety of doxycycline treatment prior to ivermectin administration in a subset of onchocerciasis individuals co-infected with low to moderate intensities of Loa loa microfilaraemia.
A double-blind, randomized, field trial was conducted of 6 weeks of doxycycline (200 mg/day) alone, doxycycline in combination with ivermectin (150 µg/kg) at +4 months or placebo matching doxycycline + ivermectin at +4 months in 150 individuals infected with Onchocerca volvulus. A further 22 individuals infected with O. volvulus and low to moderate intensities of Loa loa infection were administered with a course of 6 weeks doxycycline with ivermectin at +4 months. Treatment efficacy was determined at 4, 12 and 21 months after the start of doxycycline treatment together with the frequency and severity of adverse events.
One hundred and four (60.5%) participants completed all treatment allocations and follow up assessments over the 21-month trial period. At 12 months, doxycycline/ivermectin treated individuals had lower levels of microfilaridermia and higher frequency of amicrofilaridermia compared with ivermectin or doxycycline only groups. At 21 months, microfilaridermia in doxycycline/ivermectin and doxycycline only groups was significantly reduced compared to the ivermectin only group. 89% of the doxycycline/ivermectin group and 67% of the doxycycline only group were amicrofilaridermic, compared with 21% in the ivermectin only group. O. volvulus from doxycycline groups were depleted of Wolbachia and all embryonic stages in utero. Notably, the viability of female adult worms was significantly reduced in doxycycline treated groups and the macrofilaricidal and sterilising activity was unaffected by the addition of ivermectin. Treatment with doxycycline was well tolerated and the incidence of adverse event to doxycycline or ivermectin did not significantly deviate between treatment groups.
A six-week course of doxycycline delivers macrofilaricidal and sterilizing activities, which is not dependent upon co-administration of ivermectin. Doxycycline is well tolerated in patients co-infected with moderate intensities of L. loa microfilariae. Therefore, further trials are warranted to assess the safety and efficacy of doxycycline-based interventions to treat onchocerciasis in individuals at risk of serious adverse reactions to standard treatments due to the co-occurrence of high intensities of L. loa parasitaemias. The development of an anti-wolbachial treatment regime compatible with MDA control programmes could offer an alternative to the control of onchocerciasis in areas of co-endemicity with loiasis and at risk of severe adverse reactions to ivermectin.
The control of onchocerciasis in Africa relies on the sustained delivery of ivermectin. In certain areas, annual treatments delivered with high population coverage for at least 15–17 years can break transmission. In other endemic settings this strategy alone is thought to be insufficient to eradicate the disease. One of the major limitations occurs in areas that are co-endemic with another filarial infection caused by Loa loa, due to the risk of a rare severe adverse event associated with the rapid killing of L. loa microfilariae in heavily parasitized individuals. There are also concerns over recent evidence of reduced efficacy of ivermectin and the possible development of resistance. An alternative approach is to target the Wolbachia bacterial endosymbionts of Onchocerca volvulus with the antibiotic, doxycycline. In an area of Cameroon co-endemic for onchocerciasis and loiasis we conducted a trial comparing doxycycline with or without ivermectin treatment to ivermectin treatment alone. A six-week course of doxycycline delivers macrofilaricidal and sterilizing activities, which is not dependent upon co-administration of ivermectin. Doxycycline is well tolerated in patients co-infected with moderate intensities of L. loa microfilariae. The trial indicates that anti-wolbachial therapy is a feasible alternative to ivermectin in communities co-endemic for onchocerciasis and loiasis.
Onchocerciasis, an infection caused by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus, is a major public health concern. Given the debilitating symptoms associated with onchocerciasis and concerns about recrudescence in areas of previous onchocerciasis control, more efficient tools are needed for diagnosis and monitoring of control measures. We investigated whether luciferase immunoprecipitation systems (LIPS) may be used as a more rapid, specific, and standardized diagnostic assay for Onchocerca volvulus infection.
Four recombinantly produced Onchocerca volvulus antigens (Ov-FAR-1, Ov-API-1, Ov-MSA-1 and Ov-CPI-1) were tested by LIPS on a large cohort of blinded sera comprised of both uninfected controls and patients with a proven parasitic infection including Onchocerca volvulus (Ov), Wuchereria bancrofti (Wb), Loa loa (Ll), Strongyloides stercoralis (Ss), and with other potentially cross-reactive infections. In addition to testing all four Ov antigens separately, a mixture that tested all four antigens simultaneously was evaluated in the standard 2-hour incubation format as well as in a 15-minute rapid LIPS format.
Antibody responses to the four different Ov antigens allowed for unequivocal differentiation between Ov-infected and uninfected control sera with 100% sensitivity and 100% specificity. Analysis of the antibody titers to each of these four antigens in individual Ov-infected sera revealed that they were markedly different and did not correlate (rS = –0.11 to 0.58; P = 0.001 to 0.89) to each other. Compared to Ov-infected sera, patients infected with Wb, Ll, Ss, and other conditions had markedly lower geometric mean antibody titers to each of the Ov 4 antigens (P<0.0002 for each antigen). The simplified method of using a mixture of the 4 Ov antigens simultaneously in the standard format or a quick 15-minute format (QLIPS) showed 100% sensitivity and 100% specificity in distinguishing the Ov-infected sera from the uninfected control sera. Finally, the QLIPS format had the best performance with 100% sensitivity and specificity values of 76%, 84% and 93% for distinguishing Ov from Wb, Ll and Ss-infected sera.
The multi-antigen LIPS assay can be used as a rapid, high throughput, and specific tool to not only to diagnose individual Ov infections but also as a sensitive and potentially point-of-care method for early detection of recrudescent infections in areas under control and for mapping new areas of transmission of Ov infection.
Caused by the filarial parasite Onchocerca volvulus, onchocerciasis is a neglected tropical disease associated with blindness and severe dermatitis. Available diagnostic methods are either invasive, require hours or days to perform, and/or need sophisticated equipment to be conducted. Thus, there is an urgent need for simple and rapid technologies for the specific diagnosis of Onchocerca volvulus infection. Here we investigated whether luciferase immunoprecipitation systems (LIPS) can produce a more rapid and specific test for diagnosis of O. volvulus infection. Using modified versions of previously identified Onchocerca-specific antigens, LIPS tests detected antibodies to all four O. volvulus antigens and easily distinguished the O. volvulus-infected samples from uninfected samples. We also tested these four different antigens in a simpler format as a combined mixture and distinguished 100% of the confirmed cases from the uninfected controls. A rapid 15-minute version of this mixture test (QLIPS) also allowed distinction of 100% of the cases from those uninfected and performed even better in identifying Onchocerca from other cross-reactive parasitic infections. This study suggests that this rapid LIPS test (QLIPS) has the potential to be used in point-of-care detection of onchocerciasis and thereby may provide a new tool for diagnosis and the monitoring of transmission control measures.
Studies to determine the prevalence of antibodies to Onchocerca volvulus, prior to and after actions carried out to interrupt transmission, are scarce in Mexico. Here we report the prevalence of immunoglobulin G (IgG) and IgG4 antibodies in an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) against a crude extract of O. volvulus adult worm in serum samples from persons under noninterrupted biannual treatment with ivermectin in areas of onchocercosis endemicity in Mexico. To perform the prevalence studies, the ELISA procedures were first evaluated. Serological studies were performed with serum samples from skin microfilaria carriers from Guatemala and from people microfilariodermic negative living in the same area as the Guatemalan patients. Sensitivity values for IgG or IgG4 detection were 71 and 86%, while specificities were 92 and 100%, respectively. No anti-O. volvulus antibodies were found in samples from nonendemic controls from Mexico, but 3 of 71 samples from residents in the onchocercosis area of Oaxaca, Mexico, and who have been under ivermectin treatment during the last 10 years were only positive to IgG. Notwithstanding that the IgG4 isotype was not detected and a low (4.2%) anti-O. volvulus IgG antibody prevalence was found, a seroepidemiological follow-up must be performed in order to confirm interruption of onchocercosis transmission in the area of Oaxaca, Mexico, in which onchocercosis is endemic.
The parasite Onchocerca volvulus has, until recently, been regarded as the cause of a chronic yet non-fatal condition. Recent analyses, however, have indicated that in addition to blindness, the parasite can also be directly associated with human mortality. Such analyses also suggested that the relationship between microfilarial load and excess mortality might be non-linear. Determining the functional form of such relationship would contribute to quantify the population impact of mass microfilaricidal treatment.
Data from the Onchocerciasis Control Programme in West Africa (OCP) collected from 1974 through 2001 were used to determine functional relationships between microfilarial load and excess mortality of the human host. The goodness-of-fit of three candidate functional forms (a (log-) linear model and two saturating functions) were explored and a saturating (log-) sigmoid function was deemed to be statistically the best fit. The excess mortality associated with microfilarial load was also found to be greater in younger hosts. The attributable mortality risk due to onchocerciasis was estimated to be 5.9%.
Incorporation of this non-linear functional relationship between microfilarial load and excess mortality into mathematical models for the transmission and control of onchocerciasis will have important implications for our understanding of the population biology of O. volvulus, its impact on human populations, the global burden of disease due to onchocerciasis, and the projected benefits of control programmes in both human and economic terms.
Human onchocerciasis (River Blindness) is a parasitic disease leading to visual impairment including blindness. Blindness may lead to premature death, but infection with the parasite itself (Onchocerca volvulus) may also cause excess mortality in sighted individuals. The excess risk of mortality may not be directly (linearly) proportional to the intensity of infection (a measure of how many parasites an individual harbours). We analyze cohort data from the Onchocerciasis Control Programme in West Africa, collected between 1974 and 2001, by fitting a suite of quantitative models (including a ‘null’ model of no relationship between infection intensity and mortality, a (log-) linear function, and two plateauing curves), and choosing the one that is the most statistically adequate. The risk of human mortality initially increases with parasite density but saturates at high densities (following an S-shape curve), and such risk is greater in younger individuals for a given infection intensity. Our results have important repercussions for programmes aiming to control onchocerciasis (in terms of how the benefits of the programme are calculated), for measuring the burden of disease and mortality caused by the infection, and for a better understanding of the processes that govern the density of parasite populations among human hosts.
Ivermectin has shown promise as a potentially safe and effective microfilaricidal drug for the treatment of onchocerciasis. Several limited studies have shown it to have fewer side effects, especially ocular complications, than the currently available drug, diethylcarbamazine. The detailed ocular findings in 200 moderately to heavily infected Liberians who were enrolled in a safety and dose-finding study are presented. They received either 0, 100, 150, or 200 micrograms/kg of ivermectin and were followed up for 12 months. In clinical studies so far carried out ivermectin in a dose of 100, 150, or 200 micrograms/kg has not been associated with any major adverse reactions nor were there any sight-threatening effects even in the presence of severe ocular disease. Each of these doses significantly reduced the ocular microfilaria load for at least 12 months when compared with either the placebo (p less than 0.05) or pretreatment values (p less than 0.001). However, the 100 and 150 micrograms/kg doses caused fewer minor side effects than the higher dose. These results confirm that ivermectin in a single oral dose may be a safe and effective microfilaricidal drug for the treatment of onchocerciasis and that it appears to be free of major ocular side effects.
Onchocerciasis is a debilitating parasitic infection caused by the filarial nematode Onchocerca volvulus. Infections are chronic, and persistence of the parasites for several years argues for highly adapted mechanisms of immune evasion. Due to the restricted host repertoire of O. volvulus, we have used the cattle parasite Onchocerca ochengi to investigate the nature of immunomodulation underpinning these long-term infections. Cattle were infected with a single inoculation of 350 infective-stage larvae under laboratory conditions (n = 6). Intradermal nodules containing immature adult worms were detected from 110 days postinfection, and microfilariae in skin were detected from day 280 postinfection. Parasite-specific responses during early infection were nonpolarized with respect to the major Th cytokines (interleukin-4 [IL-4], IL-2, and gamma interferon [IFN-γ]) produced by antigen-stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) or serum antibody isotypes. Antigen-induced proliferation of PBMC peaked shortly after exposure and remained high during the prepatent infection. As the parasites matured and animals developed patent infections, there was a profound down-regulation of lymphoproliferation, accompanied by sharp falls in the expression of both IL-4 and IFN-γ and a gradual decline in IL-2. Levels of immunoglobulin G2 (IgG2) fell, while those of IgG1 remained high. We conclude that neither a classical Th2 response nor a simple Th1-to-Th2 switch is sufficient to explain the immunomodulation associated with patent Onchocerca infections. Instead, there is an initial Th0 response, which matures into a response with some, but not all of the features of a Th2 response. The natural host-parasite relationship of O. ochengi in cattle may be useful as both a descriptive and predictive tool to test more refined models of immunomodulation in onchocerciasis.
The human parasite Onchocerca volvulus harbours Wolbachia endosymbionts essential for worm embryogenesis, larval development and adult survival. In this study, the development of Wolbachia-depleted microfilariae (first stage larvae) to infective third stage larvae (L3) in the insect vector Simulium damnosum was analysed.
Infected volunteers in Cameroon were randomly and blindly allocated into doxycycline (200 mg/day for 6 weeks) or placebo treatment groups. After treatment, blackflies were allowed to take a blood meal on the volunteers, captured and dissected for larval counting and DNA extraction for quantitative real-time PCR analysis.
PCR results showed a clear reduction in Wolbachia DNA after doxycycline treatment in microfilariae from human skin biopsies with > 50% reduction at one month post-treatment, eventually reaching a reduction of > 80%. Larval stages recovered from the insect vector had similar levels of reduction of endosymbiotic bacteria. Larval recoveries were analysed longitudinally after treatment to follow the kinetics of larval development. Beginning at three months post-treatment, significantly fewer L3 were seen in the blackflies that had fed on doxycycline treated volunteers. Concomitant with this, the proportion of second stage larvae (L2) was significantly increased in this group.
Doxycycline treatment and the resulting decline of Wolbachia endobacteria from the microfilaria resulted in retarded development of larvae in the insect vector. Thus, anti-wolbachial treatment could have an additive effect for interrupting transmission by reducing the number of L3 that can be transmitted by blackflies.
Onchocerca volvulus; Wolbachia; doxycycline; development; onchocerciasis
Wolbachia pipientis is an obligate intracellular bacterium within the family Anaplasmataceae that infects many terrestrial arthropods and arthropod-transmitted nematodes (filariae). Several filarial species are major human pathogens, and antibiotics with activity against Wolbachia offer a promising new therapeutic approach, since the adult worms are relatively refractory to conventional anthelmintics but depend on Wolbachia for reproduction and viability. In a natural filarial parasite of cattle, Onchocerca ochengi, intermittent chemotherapy is adulticidal whereas the equivalent dose administered as a continuous treatment is not. To investigate this further and to aid the design of efficacious regimens for human therapy, we used Wolbachia-infected Aedes albopictus mosquito cells in vitro. Here, we describe for the first time the accelerated depletion of bacteria after antibiotic withdrawal relative to the rate of elimination in the continuous presence of the drug. Mosquito cells were incubated with doxycycline while changes in 16S (bacterial) and 18S (host) rRNA and rRNA genes were determined by quantitative PCR assays. In cultures treated for 7 or 14 days followed by 7 days of drug withdrawal, the Wolbachia-to-Aedes rRNA ratio declined by ∼6 log, whereas immediately after 14 or 21 days of continuous treatment, the reduction was only ∼4 log (P < 0.05). However, low levels of 16S rRNA remained after 21 days of treatment, irrespective of whether doxycycline was withdrawn. Application of similar methodology to related intracellular bacteria may reveal that this posttreatment effect is not restricted to Wolbachia and could have wider implications for the design of intermittent regimens for antibiotic chemotherapy.
The effect of ivermectin, a new microfilaricide, was assessed in a double blind trial against diethylcarbamazine citrate (DEC) and placebo. Fifty-nine adult males with moderate to heavy infection with Onchocerca volvulus and with eye involvement were recruited from an area under Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP) vector control in Northern Ghana. They were randomly assigned to an eight-day treatment with ivermectin as a single dose of 12 mg on day 1 followed by placebo for the remaining seven days, or DEC, total dose 1.3 g, or placebo, and ophthalmological review was undertaken over a period of one year. DEC acted quickly to eliminate microfilariae from the eye and was associated with reactive ocular changes and in a few cases functional deficit. Ivermectin eliminated microfilariae slowly from the anterior chamber of the eye over a period of six months. The ocular inflammatory reaction was minimal and no functional deficit occurred. It is postulated that the observed slow action of ivermectin on the eye may be attributed in part to its instability to cross the blood-aqueous humour barrier because of its molecular size as a macrocyclic lactone causing microfilariae to leave the eye gradually along a newly created gradient. Ivermectin is an effective microfilaricide with minimal ocular adverse effect and could therefore be suitable for widespread application without strict supervision.
Elimination of onchocerciasis (river blindness) through mass administration of ivermectin in the six countries in Latin America where it is endemic is considered feasible due to the relatively small size and geographic isolation of endemic foci. We evaluated whether transmission of onchocerciasis has been interrupted in the endemic focus of Escuintla-Guatemala in Guatemala, based on World Health Organization criteria for the certification of elimination of onchocerciasis.
We conducted evaluations of ocular morbidity and past exposure to Onchocerca volvulus in the human population, while potential vectors (Simulium ochraceum) were captured and tested for O. volvulus DNA; all of the evaluations were carried out in potentially endemic communities (PEC; those with a history of actual or suspected transmission or those currently under semiannual mass treatment with ivermectin) within the focus. The prevalence of microfilariae in the anterior segment of the eye in 329 individuals (≥7 years old, resident in the PEC for at least 5 years) was 0% (one-sided 95% confidence interval [CI] 0–0.9%). The prevalence of antibodies to a recombinant O. volvulus antigen (Ov-16) in 6,432 school children (aged 6 to 12 years old) was 0% (one-sided 95% IC 0–0.05%). Out of a total of 14,099 S. ochraceum tested for O. volvulus DNA, none was positive (95% CI 0–0.01%). The seasonal transmission potential was, therefore, 0 infective stage larvae per person per season.
Based on these evaluations, transmission of onchocerciasis in the Escuintla-Guatemala focus has been successfully interrupted. Although this is the second onchocerciasis focus in Latin America to have demonstrated interruption of transmission, it is the first focus with a well-documented history of intense transmission to have eliminated O. volvulus.
Brought to the Americas from Africa by the slave trade, onchocerciasis is present in six countries in Latin America. The disease is caused by a round worm and is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected black fly. Once in a human, the adult worms produce larvae that circulate through the body, causing itching or even blindness. Ivermectin, a drug that kills the larvae, is delivered by public health authorities in countries where the disease is present. If the larvae are killed, then the disease cannot be transmitted to more people. People living in the Escuintla-Guatemala focus, a region in Guatemala where the disease was common, have been taking ivermectin for many years. The Ministry of Health of Guatemala believes that onchocerciasis is no longer being transmitted in the area. To prove that there is no more transmission of the disease, the authors examined the eyes of residents of the area to see if they could find any evidence of the worms. They also conducted analyses of blood in school children to see if they had ever been exposed to the worm, and they caught thousands of black flies and tested them to see if they were infected. These evaluations found no evidence of transmission of the disease in the Escuintla-Guatemala focus. As a result, local public health authorities can stop giving ivermectin and invest their human resources in other important diseases.