There is growing evidence that the commensal bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract (the gut microbiota) influence the development of autoimmunity in rodent models. Since humans have co-evolved with commensals for millennia, it is likely that people, who are genetically predisposed to autoimmunity, harbor gut microbial communities that similarly influence the onset and/or severity of disease. Beyond the current efforts to identify such disease-promoting or -preventing commensals ("pathobionts" or "symbionts"), it will be important to determine what factors modulate them. Dietary changes are known to affect both the composition and function of the gut microbial communities, which in turn can alter the innate and adaptive immune system. In this review, we focus on the relationships between diet, microbiota, and autoimmune diseases. We hypothesize that the beneficial and life-prolonging effects of caloric restriction on a variety of autoimmune models including lupus might partly be mediated by its effects on the gut microbiome and associated virome, the collection of all viruses in the gut. We give recent examples of the immunomodulatory potential of select gut commensals and their products or diet-derived metabolites in murine models of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes. Lastly, we summarize the published phenotypes of germ-free mouse models of lupus and speculate on any role of the diet-sensitive microbiome and virome in systemic lupus and the related antiphospholipid syndrome.
Keywords: Microbiome; autoimmunity; caloric restriction; molecular mimicry; virome.