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Immunology. 2020 Mar 20. doi: 10.1111/imm.13195. [Epub ahead of print]

Respiratory microbiome and epithelial interactions shape immunity in the lungs.

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Inflammation, Repair & Development Section, National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College, London, UK.
Dept of Respiratory Medicine, Interstitial Lung Disease Unit, Royal Brompton Hospital, London, UK.


The airway epithelium represents a physical barrier to the external environment acting as the first line of defence against potentially harmful environmental stimuli including microbes and allergens. However, lung epithelial cells are increasingly recognised as active effectors of microbial defence, contributing to both innate and adaptive immune function in the lower respiratory tract. These cells express an ample repertoire of pattern-recognition receptors with specificity for conserved microbial and host motifs. Modern molecular techniques have uncovered the complexity of the lower respiratory tract microbiome. The interaction between the microbiota and the airway epithelium is key to understanding how stable immune homeostasis is maintained. Loss of epithelial integrity following exposure to infection can result in the onset of inflammation in susceptible individuals and may culminate in lung disease. Here we discuss the current knowledge regarding the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which the pulmonary epithelium interacts with the lung microbiome in shaping immunity in the lung. Specifically, we focus on the interactions between the lung microbiome and the cells of the conducting airways in modulating immune cell regulation and how defects in barrier structure and function may culminate in lung disease. Understanding these interactions is fundamental in the search for more effective therapies for respiratory diseases.


immunity; lungs; mucosal immunology; respiratory epithelium; respiratory microbiome


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