The macrophage migration inhibitory factors (MIFs) from the filarial parasite Onchocerca volvulus (OvMIF) were compared to the MIFs from the free-living nematode Caenorhabditis elegans (CeMIF) with respect to molecular, biochemical and immunological properties. Except for CeMIF-4, all other MIFs demonstrated tautomerase activity. Surprisingly, OvMIF-1 displayed oxidoreductase activity. The strongest immunostaining for OvMIF-1 was observed in the outer cellular covering of the adult worm body, the syncytial hypodermis; moderate immunostaining was observed in the uterine wall. The generation of a strong humoral immune response towards OvMIF-1 and reduced reactivity to OvMIF-2 was indicated by high IgG levels in patients infected with O. volvulus and cows infected with the closely related Onchocerca ochengi, both MIFs revealing identical amino acid sequences. Using Litomosoides sigmodontis-infected mice, a laboratory model for filarial infection, MIFs derived from the tissue-dwelling O. volvulus, the rodent gut-dwelling Strongyloides ratti and from free-living C. elegans were recognized, suggesting that L. sigmodontis MIF-specific IgM and IgG1 were produced during L. sigmodontis infection of mice and cross-reacted with all MIF proteins tested. Thus, MIF apparently functions as a target of B cell response during nematode infection, but in the natural Onchocerca-specific human and bovine infection, the induced antibodies can discriminate between MIFs derived from parasitic or free-living nematodes.