Complex and highly variable site-dependent bacterial ecosystems exist throughout the length of the human gastrointestinal tract. Until relatively recently, the majority of our information on intestinal microbiotas has come from studies on feces, or from aspirates taken from the upper gut. However, there is evidence showing that mucosal bacteria growing in biofilms on surfaces lining the gut differ from luminal populations, and that due to their proximity to the epithelial surface, these organisms may be important in modulating the host's immune system and contributing to some chronic inflammatory diseases. Over the past decade, increasing interest in mucosal bacteria, coupled with advances in molecular approaches for assessing microbial diversity, has begun to provide some insight into the complexity of these mucosa-associated communities. In gastrointestinal conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases (ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease), it has been shown that a dysbiosis exists in microbial community structure, and that there is a reduction in putatively protective mucosal organisms such as bifidobacteria. Therefore, manipulation of mucosal communities may be beneficial in restoring normal functionality in the gut, thereby improving the immune status and general health of the host. Biofilm structure and function has been studied intensively in the oral cavity, and as a consequence, mucosal communities in the mouth will not be covered in this chapter. This review addresses our current knowledge of mucosal populations in the gastrointestinal tract, changes that can occur in community structure in disease, and therapeutic modulation of biofilm composition by antibiotics, prebiotics, and probiotics.
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