The present review discusses the immune responses to gastrointestinal nematodes in cattle and the different immunological and parasitological parameters used to assess acquired immunity. Measuring acquired immunity to gastrointestinal nematodes in cattle (e.g. for the evaluation of candidate parasite vaccines) is hampered by the limited understanding of bovine immune responses against gastrointestinal parasites. In this paper the available data on protective immunity against gastrointestinal nematodes, and especially Ostertagia ostertagi, in cattle are compared with the current knowledge of protective immune responses against gastrointestinal nematodes in rodent models and small ruminants. In contrast to the immune response in mice, which is controlled by T helper 2 (Th2) lymphocytes and results in mast cell- or goblet cell- mediated expulsion of adult worms, bovine immune responses to O. ostertagi do not show a clear Th2 cytokine profile, nor do they result in rapid expulsion of the parasite. The first manifestation of immunity to O. ostertagi in calves is a reduction of worm fecundity, possibly regulated by the local IgA response. Worm numbers are only reduced after a prolonged period of host–parasite contact, and there are indications that O. ostertagi actively suppresses the host's immune response. Until the mechanisms of protective immunity against O. ostertagi are revealed, the use of immunological parameters to estimate acquired immunity in cattle is based on their correlation with parasitological parameters and on extrapolation from rodent and small ruminant models. Assessing the resistance of calves against a challenge infection by means of parasitological parameters is probably still the most accurate way to measure acquired immunity against gastrointestinal nematodes.
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