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FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2011 Jul;35(4):681-704. doi: 10.1111/j.1574-6976.2011.00270.x. Epub 2011 Mar 18.

The host selects mucosal and luminal associations of coevolved gut microorganisms: a novel concept.

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Laboratory of Microbial Ecology and Technology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.


Along the human gastrointestinal tract, microorganisms are confronted with multiple barriers. Besides selective physical conditions, the epithelium is regularly replaced and covered with a protective mucus layer trapping immune molecules. Recent insights into host defense strategies show that the host selects the intestinal microbiota, particularly the mucosa-associated microbial community. In this context, humans coevolved with thousands of intestinal microbial species that have adapted to provide host benefits, while avoiding pathogenic behavior that might destabilize their host interaction. While mucosal microorganisms would be crucial for immunological priming, luminal microorganisms would be important for nutrient digestion. Further, we propose that the intestinal microorganisms also coevolved with each other, leading to coherently organized, resilient microbial associations. During disturbances, functionally redundant members become more abundant and are crucial for preserving community functionality. The outside of the mucus layer, where host defense molecules are more diluted, could serve as an environment where microorganisms are protected from disturbances in the lumen and from where they can recolonize the lumen after perturbations. This might explain the remarkable temporal stability of microbial communities. Finally, commensals that become renegade or a decreased exposure to essential coevolved microorganisms may cause particular health problems such as inflammatory bowel diseases, obesity or allergies.

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