Serological Evaluation of the Macrofilaricidal Effects of Diethylcarbamazine Treatment in Bancroftian filariasis

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  • Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research, Division of Geographic Medicine, Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals, Swiss Tropical Institute, Water and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Goroka, Papua New Guinea

An Mr 200,000 phosphorylcholine-containing antigen (PC-Ag) of predominantly adult worm origin was found in the sera of humans infected with Wuchereria bancrofti. This paper describes results of a longitudinal study of changes in levels of PC-Ag in response to diethylcarbamazine (DEC) therapy as measured by two-site immuno-radiometric assay (IRMA) and Western blotting. One hundred thirty-two residents of a bancroftian filariasis-endemic area of Papua New Guinea (PNG) were treated with a 72 mg/kg dose of DEC. A macrofilaricidal effect was seen with this dose of DEC as 34% of the treated subjects had localized side effects and long-term decreases in microfilariae (mf) counts were observed 12 months after treatment. The PC-Ag levels were reduced to 72%, 52%, and 51% of pretreatment values at 21 days and at six and 12 months after treatment. These decreases, observed by IRMA, were specifically associated with loss of the Mr 200,000 PC-Ag detected by immunoadsorption and Western blotting. From drug treatment data, the maximum half-life of PC-Ag in circulation was calculated to be 50 days, assuming a first-order decay process. This maximum half-life indicates that persistent antigenemia observed in the majority of treated subjects could only result from the survival of adult worms. In the absence of methods to directly demonstrate W. bancrofti adult worms, detection of serum PC-Ag levels provides a sensitive indirect measure of the dynamics of adult worm populations. This serological measurement may be useful in optimizing the macrofilaricidal and therapeutic effects of DEC and in assessing the macrofilaricidal action of new antifilarial drugs and immunological interventions.