The gastrointestinal tract harbors a complex population of microbes that play a fundamental role in the development of the immune system and human health. Besides an important local contribution in the host defense against infections, it has become increasingly clear that intestinal bacteria also modulate immune responses at systemic sites. These new insights can be of profound clinical relevance especially for intensive care medicine where the majority of patients are treated with antibiotics, which have pervasive and long-term effects on the intestinal microbiota. Moreover, considerable progress has been made in defining the role of the intestinal microbiota in both health and disease. In this review, we highlight these aspects and focus on recent key findings addressing the role of intestinal microbiota in antimicrobial defense mechanisms and its impact on intestinal homeostasis in the critically ill.
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