The microbial communities that inhabit the intestinal tract are essential for mammalian health. Communication between the microbiota and the host establishes and maintains immune homeostasis, enabling protective immune responses against pathogens while preventing adverse inflammatory responses to harmless commensal microbes. Specific bacteria, such as segmented filamentous bacteria, Clostridium species, and Bacteroides fragilis, are key contributors to immune homeostasis in the gut. The cellular and molecular interactions between intestinal microbes and the immune system are rapidly being elucidated. Here, we review advances in our understanding of the microbial populations that shape the mucosal immune system and create a protective defense that prevents infection while tolerating friendly commensals.
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