Background: The human gut is an ecosystem consisting of a great number of commensal bacteria living in symbiosis with the host. Several data confirm that gut microbiota is engaged in a dynamic interaction with the intestinal innate and adaptive immune system, affecting different aspects of its development and function.
Aim: To review the immunological functions of gut microbiota and improve knowledge of its therapeutic implications for several intestinal and extra-intestinal diseases associated to dysregulation of the immune system.
Methods: Significant articles were identified by literature search and selected based on content, including atopic diseases, inflammatory bowel diseases and treatment of these conditions with probiotics.
Results: Accumulating evidence indicates that intestinal microflora has protective, metabolic, trophic and immunological functions and is able to establish a "cross-talk" with the immune component of mucosal immunity, comprising cellular and soluble elements. When one or more steps in this fine interaction fail, autoimmune or auto-inflammatory diseases may occur. Furthermore, it results from the data that probiotics, used for the treatment of the diseases caused by the dysregulation of the immune system, can have a beneficial effect by different mechanisms.
Conclusions: Gut microbiota interacts with both innate and adaptive immune system, playing a pivotal role in maintenance and disruption of gut immune quiescence. A cross talk between the mucosal immune system and endogenous microflora favours a mutual growth, survival and inflammatory control of the intestinal ecosystem. Based on these evidences, probiotics can be used as an ecological therapy in the treatment of immune diseases.