Bacterial skin commensals and their role as host guardians

Benef Microbes. 2014 Jun 1;5(2):201-15. doi: 10.3920/BM2012.0062.


Recent years' investigations of the co-evolution and functional integration of the human body and its commensal microbiota have disclosed that the microbiome has a major impact on physiological functions including protection against infections, reaction patterns in the immune system, and disposition for inflammation-mediated diseases. Two ubiquitous members of the skin microbiota, the Gram-positive bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis and Propionibacterium acnes, are predominant on human epithelia and in sebaceous follicles, respectively. Their successful colonisation is a result of a commensal or even mutualistic lifestyle, favouring traits conferring persistency over aggressive host-damaging properties. Some bacterial properties suggest an alliance with the host to keep transient, potential pathogens at bay, such as the ability of S. epidermidis to produce antimicrobials, or the production of short-chain fatty acids by P. acnes. These features can function together with host-derived components of the innate host defence to establish and maintain the composition of a health-associated skin microbiota. However, depending largely on the host status, the relationship between the human host and S. epidermidis/P. acnes can also have parasitic features. Both microorganisms are frequently isolated from opportunistic infections. S. epidermidis is a causative agent of hospital-acquired infections, mostly associated with the use of medical devices. P. acnes is suspected to be of major importance in the pathogenesis of acne and also in a number of other opportunistic infections. In this review we will present bacterial factors and traits of these two key members of our skin microbiota and discuss how they contribute to mutualistic and parasitic properties. The elucidation of their roles in health-promoting or disease-causing processes could lead to new prophylactic and therapeutic strategies against skin disorders and other S. epidermidis/P. acnes-associated diseases, and increase our understanding of the delicate interplay of the skin microbiota with the human host.

Keywords: Propionibacterium acnes; Propionobacterium spp.; Staphylococcus epidermidis; bacteriocin; skin microbiota.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Microbiota*
  • Opportunistic Infections / immunology
  • Opportunistic Infections / microbiology*
  • Propionibacterium acnes / growth & development*
  • Skin / microbiology*
  • Skin Diseases, Bacterial / immunology
  • Skin Diseases, Bacterial / microbiology*
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena*
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis / growth & development*
  • Symbiosis