We are all born germ-free. Following birth we enter into a lifelong relationship with microbes residing on our body's surfaces. The lower intestine is home to the highest microbial density in our body, which is also the highest microbial density known on Earth (up to 10(12) /g of luminal contents). With our indigenous microbial cells outnumbering our human cells by an order of magnitude our body is more microbial than human. Numerous immune adaptations confine these microbes within the mucosa, enabling most of us to live in peaceful homeostasis with our intestinal symbionts. Intestinal epithelial cells not only form a physical barrier between the bacteria-laden lumen and the rest of the body but also function as multi-tasking immune cells that sense the prevailing microbial (apical) and immune (basolateral) milieus, instruct the underlying immune cells, and adapt functionally. In the constant effort to ensure intestinal homeostasis, the immune system becomes educated to respond appropriately and in turn immune status can shape the microbial consortia. Here we review how the dynamic immune-microbial dialogue underlies maturation and regulation of the immune system and discuss recent findings on the impact of diet on both microbial ecology and immune function.
© 2012 The Authors. Immunology © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.