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Adv Immunol. 2010;107:243-74. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-381300-8.00008-3.

Host-bacterial symbiosis in health and disease.

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Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.


All animals live in symbiosis. Shaped by eons of co-evolution, host-bacterial associations have developed into prosperous relationships creating mechanisms for mutual benefits to both microbe and host. No better example exists in biology than the astounding numbers of bacteria harbored by the lower gastrointestinal tract of mammals. The mammalian gut represents a complex ecosystem consisting of an extraordinary number of resident commensal bacteria existing in homeostasis with the host's immune system. Most impressive about this relationship may be the concept that the host not only tolerates, but has evolved to require colonization by beneficial microorganisms, known as commensals, for various aspects of immune development and function. The microbiota provides critical signals that promote maturation of immune cells and tissues, leading to protection from infections by pathogens. Gut bacteria also appear to contribute to non-infectious immune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease and autoimmunity. How the microbiota influences host immune responses is an active area of research with important implications for human health. This review synthesizes emerging findings and concepts that describe the mutualism between the microbiota and mammals, specifically emphasizing the role of gut bacteria in shaping an immune response that mediates the balance between health and disease. Unlocking how beneficial bacteria affect the development of the immune system may lead to novel and natural therapies based on harnessing the immunomodulatory properties of the microbiota.

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