In schistosomiasis, granuloma formation to parasite eggs signals the beginning of a chronic and potentially life-threatening disease. Granulomas are strictly mediated by CD4+ T helper (Th) cells specific for egg antigens; however, the number and identity of these T cell-sensitizing molecules are largely unknown. We have used monoclonal T cell reagents derived from egg-sensitized individuals as probes to track down, isolate and positively identify several egg antigens; this approach implicitly assures that the molecules of interest are T cell immunogens and, hence, potentially pathogenic. The best studied and most abundant egg component is the Sm-p40 antigen. Sm-p40 and its peptide 234-246 elicit a strikingly immunodominant Th-1-polarized response in C3H and CBA mice, which are H-2k
strains characterized by severe egg-induced immunopathology. Two additional recently described T cell-sensitizing egg antigens are Schistosoma mansoni
phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (Sm-PEPCK) and thioredoxin peroxidase-1 (Sm-TPx-1). In contrast to Sm-p40, both of these molecules induce a more balanced Th-1/Th-2 response, and are relatively stronger antigens in C57BL/6 mice, which develop smaller egg granulomas. Importantly, Sm-p40 and Sm-PEPCK have demonstrated immunogenicity in humans. The findings in the murine model introduce the important notion that egg antigens can vary significantly in immunogenicity according to the host's genetic background. A better knowledge of the principal immunogenic egg components is necessary to determine whether the immune responses to certain antigens can serve as indicators or predictors of the form and severity of clinical disease, and to ascertain whether such responses can be manipulated for the purpose of reducing pathology.