Gut barrier in health and disease: focus on childhood

Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2015;19(6):1077-85.


The gut barrier is a functional unit, organized as a multi-layer system, made up of two main components: a physical barrier surface, which prevents bacterial adhesion and regulates paracellular diffusion to the host tissues, and a deep functional barrier, that is able to discriminate between pathogens and commensal microorganisms, organizing the immune tolerance and the immune response to pathogens. Other mechanisms, such as gastric juice and pancreatic enzymes (which both have antibacterial properties) participate in the luminal integrity of the gut barrier. From the outer layer to the inner layer, the physical barrier is composed of gut microbiota (that competes with pathogens to gain space and energy resources, processes the molecules necessary to mucosal integrity and modulates the immunological activity of deep barrier), mucus (which separates the intraluminal content from more internal layers and contains antimicrobial products and secretory IgA), epithelial cells (which form a physical and immunological barrier) and the innate and adaptive immune cells forming the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (which is responsible for antigen sampling and immune responses). Disruption of the gut barrier has been associated with many gastrointestinal diseases, but also with extra-intestinal pathological condition, such as type 1 diabetes mellitus, allergic diseases or autism spectrum disorders. The maintenance of a healthy intestinal barrier is therefore of paramount importance in children, for both health and economic reasons. Many drugs or compounds used in the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders act through the restoration of a normal intestinal permeability. Several studies have highlighted the role of probiotics in the modulation and reduction of intestinal permeability, considering the strong influence of gut microbiota in the modulation of the function and structure of gut barrier, but also on the immune response of the host. To date, available weapons for the maintenance and repair of gut barrier are however few, even if promising. Considerable efforts, including both a better understanding of the gut barrier features and mechanisms in health and disease, and the development of new pharmacological approaches for the modulation of gut barrier components, are needed for the prevention and treatment of gastrointestinal and extraintestinal diseases associated with gut barrier impairment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Gastric Mucosa / drug effects
  • Gastric Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Gastric Mucosa / pathology
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / administration & dosage
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / drug therapy
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / pathology
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / drug effects
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / pathology
  • Permeability / drug effects
  • Probiotics / administration & dosage


  • Gastrointestinal Agents