Supplemented nutrition decreases helminth burden and increases drug efficacy in a natural host–helminth system

Amy R. Sweeny, Melanie Clerc, Paulina A. Pontifes, Saudamini Venkatesan, Simon A. Babayan, Amy B. Pedersen

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Gastrointestinal (GI) helminths are common parasites of humans, wildlife, and livestock, causing chronic infections. In humans and wildlife, poor nutrition or limited resources can compromise an individual's immune response, predisposing them to higher helminth burdens. This relationship has been tested in laboratory models by investigating infection outcomes following reductions of specific nutrients. However, much less is known about how diet supplementation can impact susceptibility to infection, acquisition of immunity, and drug efficacy in natural host–helminth systems. We experimentally supplemented the diet of wood mice (Apodemus sylvaticus) with high-quality nutrition and measured resistance to the common GI nematode Heligmosomoides polygyrus. To test whether diet can enhance immunity to reinfection, we also administered anthelmintic treatment in both natural and captive populations. Supplemented wood mice were more resistant to H. polygyrus infection, cleared worms more efficiently after treatment, avoided a post-treatment infection rebound, produced stronger general and parasite-specific antibody responses, and maintained better body condition. In addition, when applied in conjunction with anthelmintic treatment, supplemented nutrition significantly reduced H. polygyrus transmission potential. These results show the rapid and extensive benefits of a well-balanced diet and have important implications for both disease control and wildlife health under changing environmental conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1943
Early online date20 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2021


  • nutrition
  • gastrointestinal helminths
  • Heligmosomoides polygyrus
  • host–parasite interactions
  • anthelmintic treatment
  • apodemus sylvaticus

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