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J Leukoc Biol. 2008 Mar;83(3):461-6. Epub 2007 Dec 26.

The re-emerging role of the intestinal microflora in critical illness and inflammation: why the gut hypothesis of sepsis syndrome will not go away.

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  • 1Laboratory for Surgical Infection Research and Therapeutics, 5841 S. Maryland MC 6090, Chicago, IL 60025, USA.


Recent advances in the ability to genetically interrogate microbial communities within the intestinal tract of humans have revealed many striking findings. That there may be as many as 300 unculturable and unclassified microbes within the human intestinal tract opens the possibility that yet-unidentified microbes may play a role in various human diseases [( 1) ]. Technologically, the regional and spatial aspects of intestinal microbial communities can now be better appreciated by emerging genetic and in vivo imaging systems using a bioinformatics approach [( 2) ]. Finally, in situ PCR of tissues and blood now allows the detection of microbes at concentrations that would otherwise remain undetected by culture alone [( 3) ]. In the aggregate, these studies have empowered clinicians to readdress the issue of how our microbial partners are affected by extreme states of physiologic stress and antibiotic use through the course of critical illness. The role of microbes in systemic inflammatory states, such as systemic inflammatory response syndrome, as well as in primary intestinal mucosal diseases, such as necrotizing enterocolitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and ischemia-reperfusion injury, can now be more completely defined, and the microbial genes that mediate the immune activation during these disorders can be identified. The 2008 roadmap initiative at the National Institutes of Health to fully define the human microbiome is further testament to the power of this technology and the importance of understanding how intestinal microbes, their genes, and their gene products affect the course of human disease and inflammation.

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