Helminth parasites defy immune exclusion through sophisticated evasion mechanisms, including activation of host immunosuppressive regulatory T (Treg) cells. The mouse parasite Heligmosomoides polygyrus can expand the host Treg population by secreting products that activate TGF-β signalling, but the identity of the active molecule is unknown. Here we identify an H. polygyrus TGF-β mimic (Hp-TGM) that replicates the biological and functional properties of TGF-β, including binding to mammalian TGF-β receptors and inducing mouse and human Foxp3+ Treg cells. Hp-TGM has no homology with mammalian TGF-β or other members of the TGF-β family, but is a member of the complement control protein superfamily. Thus, our data indicate that through convergent evolution, the parasite has acquired a protein with cytokine-like function that is able to exploit an endogenous pathway of immunoregulation in the host.
- Immune evasion
- Parasitic infection
- Regulatory T cells
- Transforming growth factor beta