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Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Oct;78(4):675-83.

The intestine and its microflora are partners for the protection of the host: report on the Danone Symposium "The Intelligent Intestine," held in Paris, June 14, 2002.

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Microbiology Department, Paris Sud XI University, Chatenay-Malabry, France.


The intestine is an extremely complex living system that participates in the protection of the host through a strong defense against aggressions from the external environment. This defensive task is based on 3 constituents that are in permanent contact and dialog with each other: the microflora, mucosal barrier, and local immune system. We review herein current knowledge about these important functions. The gut microflora play a major role against exogenous bacteria through colonization resistance, but the mechanism of action is not yet established, although it is linked to the bacteria colonizing the gut. This colonization involves bacteria-bacteria dialog, bacteria-mucins interactions, and bacteria-colonocytes cross-talk associated with environmental factors. The intestinal mucosa is a cellular barrier and the main site of interaction with foreign substances and exogenous microorganisms. It is a complex physicochemical structure consisting of a mucous layer linked to cellular and stromal components that participate in the defense of the host through mucosal blood flow, mucosal secretions, epithelial cell functionals, surface hydrophobicity, and defensin production. The intestine is the primary immune organ of the body represented by the gut-associated lymphoid tissue through innate and acquired immunity. This immune system can tolerate dietary antigens and the gut-colonizing bacteria and recognizes and rejects enteropathogenic microorganisms that may challenge the body's defenses. In cooperation with these endogenous barriers, some in-transit bacteria, such as probiotics, can act as partners of the defense system of the intestine.

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