Enteric helminths have a significant impact on the structure, function, and neural control of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of the host. Interactions between the host's nervous and immune systems redirect activity in neuronal circuits intrinsic to the gut into an alternative repertoire of defensive and adaptive motor programs. Gut inflammation and activation of the enteric neuroimmune axis play integral roles in the dynamic interaction between host and parasite that occurs at the mucosal surface. Three inter-related themes are stressed in this review to underscore the pivotal role that neural control mechanisms play in the host's GI tract functional responses to enteric parasitism. First, we address the discovery that signaling molecules of both parasite and host origin can reorient the dynamic ecology of enteric host-parasite interactions. Second, we explore what has been learned from investigations of altered gut propulsive and secretomotor reflex activities that occur during enteric parasitic infections and the emerging picture derived from these studies that elucidates how nerves help facilitate and orchestrate functional reorganization of the parasitized gut. Third, we provide an overview of the direct impact that enteric parasitism has on nerve cell function and neurotransmission pathways in both the enteric and central nervous systems of the host. In summary, this review highlights and clarifies the complex mechanisms underlying integrative neuroimmunophysiological responses to the presence of both invasive and noninvasive enteric helminths and identifies directions for future research investigations in this highly important but understudied area.
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