The mucosal immune system of fish: the evolution of tolerating commensals while fighting pathogens

Fish Shellfish Immunol. 2013 Dec;35(6):1729-39. doi: 10.1016/j.fsi.2013.09.032. Epub 2013 Oct 5.


The field of mucosal immunology research has grown fast over the past few years, and our understanding on how mucosal surfaces respond to complex antigenic cocktails is expanding tremendously. With the advent of new molecular sequencing techniques, it is easier to understand how the immune system of vertebrates is, to a great extent, orchestrated by the complex microbial communities that live in symbiosis with their hosts. The commensal microbiota is now seen as the "extended self" by many scientists. Similarly, fish immunologist are devoting important research efforts to the field of mucosal immunity and commensals. Recent breakthroughs on our understanding of mucosal immune responses in teleost fish open up the potential of teleosts as animal research models for the study of human mucosal diseases. Additionally, this new knowledge places immunologists in a better position to specifically target the fish mucosal immune system while rationally designing mucosal vaccines and other immunotherapies. In this review, an updated view on how teleost skin, gills and gut immune cells and molecules, function in response to pathogens and commensals is provided. Finally, some of the future avenues that the field of fish mucosal immunity may follow in the next years are highlighted.

Keywords: Commensal; Immune system; Mucosa; Pathogen; Teleost.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Fishes / immunology*
  • Immunity, Mucosal*
  • Mammals / immunology*
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use*
  • Vaccines / immunology
  • Vaccines / therapeutic use*


  • Vaccines