A fresh look at the hygiene hypothesis: how intestinal microbial exposure drives immune effector responses in atopic disease

Semin Immunol. 2013 Nov 30;25(5):378-87. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2013.09.003. Epub 2013 Oct 25.


There currently is no consensus on which immunological mechanisms can best explain the rise in atopic disease post industrialization. The hygiene hypothesis lays groundwork for our understanding of how altered microbial exposures can drive atopy; yet since its introduction increasing evidence suggests the exposure of our immune system to the intestinal microbiota plays a key role in development of atopic disease. As societal change shifts our microbial exposure, concordant shifts in the tolerant and effector functions of our immune systems give rise to more hypersensitive responses to external antigens. This is contrasted with the greater immune tolerant capabilities of individuals still living in regions with lifestyles more representative of our evolutionary history. Recent findings, buoyed by technological advances in the field, suggest a direct role for the intestinal microbiota-immune system interplay in the development of atopic disease mechanisms. Overall, harnessing current mechanistic studies for translational research into microbiota composition and function in relation to atopy have potential for the design of therapeutics that could moderate these diseases.

Keywords: Allergy; Asthma; Atopic diseases; Atopy; Environmental enteropathy; Microbiota; Regulatory T cells; T helper 2 cells; Toll-like receptors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Hygiene Hypothesis*
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology*
  • Intestines / immunology*
  • Intestines / microbiology*
  • Microbiota