Immunoregulatory states induced by i.p. inoculation with the metazoan parasite Echinococcus multilocularis in the murine system were investigated. Proliferative responses and IL-2 production induced by Con A in spleen cells from BALB/c mice were significantly depressed at an early stage after infection with E. multilocularis protoscoleces (PSC). Addition of plastic-adherent cells from normal syngeneic mice to the nonadherent spleen cells from infected mice did not restore the depressed Con A responsiveness. On the other hand, exogenous IL-2 reconstituted completely the proliferative responses to Con A. Flow cytometry analysis revealed that CD4- CD8+ cells with a low density of CD8 Ag (CD8dull cells) increased in spleens from infected mice 2 weeks after inoculation. Addition of the spleen cell subpopulation containing the CD8dull cells, but not that depleted of the CD8dull cells, to normal spleen cells resulted in marked suppression of the Con A responses. These findings suggest that the CD8dull cells detected in spleens of mice inoculated with E. multilocularis PSC may play a key role in the suppressive regulation of immune responses. The relevance of the immune suppression seen in the early stages of experimental infection with E. multilocularis PSC to the eventual establishment of a host-parasite relationship is discussed.

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