While bidirectional brain-gut interactions are well known mechanisms for the regulation of gut function in both healthy and diseased states, a role of the enteric flora--including both commensal and pathogenic organisms--in these interactions has only been recognized in the past few years. The brain can influence commensal organisms (enteric microbiota) indirectly, via changes in gastrointestinal motility and secretion, and intestinal permeability, or directly, via signaling molecules released into the gut lumen from cells in the lamina propria (enterochromaffin cells, neurons, immune cells). Communication from enteric microbiota to the host can occur via multiple mechanisms, including epithelial-cell, receptor-mediated signaling and, when intestinal permeability is increased, through direct stimulation of host cells in the lamina propria. Enterochromaffin cells are important bidirectional transducers that regulate communication between the gut lumen and the nervous system. Vagal, afferent innervation of enterochromaffin cells provides a direct pathway for enterochromaffin-cell signaling to neuronal circuits, which may have an important role in pain and immune-response modulation, control of background emotions and other homeostatic functions. Disruption of the bidirectional interactions between the enteric microbiota and the nervous system may be involved in the pathophysiology of acute and chronic gastrointestinal disease states, including functional and inflammatory bowel disorders.