The human intestine contains more than 100 trillion microorganisms that maintain a symbiotic relationship with the host. Under normal conditions, these bacteria are not pathogenic and in fact confer health benefits to the host. The microbiota interacts with the innate and adaptive arms of the host's intestinal mucosal immune system and through these mechanisms drives regulatory cell differentiation in the gut that is critically involved in maintaining immune tolerance. Specifically, the microbiota can activate distinct tolerogenic dendritic cells in the gut and through this interaction can drive regulatory T-cell differentiation. In addition, the microbiota is important in driving T(H)1 cell differentiation, which corrects the T(H)2 immune skewing that is thought to occur at birth. If appropriate immune tolerance is not established in early life and maintained throughout life, this represents a risk factor for the development of inflammatory, autoimmune, and allergic diseases. Early-life events are instrumental in establishing the microbiota, the composition of which throughout life is influenced by various environmental and lifestyle pressures. Significant efforts are now being made to establish interventional approaches that can create a healthy microbiota that confers maximum tolerogenic immunomodulatory effects in the gut and that will protect against systemic inflammatory disease pathologies.
Copyright © 2011 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Published by Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.