All animals develop in association with complex microbial communities. It is now well established that commensal microbiota is essential for the correct functionality of each organ in the host. Particularly, the commensal gastro-intestinal microbiota (CGIM) is a key factor for development, immunity and nutrient conversion, rendering them bio-available for various uses. Thus, nutritional inputs generate a positive loop in maintaining host health and are essential in shaping the composition of the CGIM communities. Probiotics, which are live exogenous microorganisms, selectively provided to the host, are a promising concept for manipulating the microbiota and thus for increasing the host health status. Nevertheless, most mechanisms induced by probiotics to fortify the immune system are still a matter of debate. Alternatively, prebiotics, which are non-digestible food ingredients, can favor the growth of specific target groups of CGIM. Several metabolites are produced by the CGIM, one of the most important are the short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which emerge from the fermentation of complex carbohydrates. SCFAs have been recognized as key players in triggering beneficial effects elicited by simple diffusion and by specific receptors present, thus, far only in epithelial cells of higher vertebrates at different gastro-intestinal locations. However, both strategies have shown to provide resistance against pathogens during periods of high stress. In fish, knowledge about the action of pro- and prebiotics and SCFAs is still limited. Thus, in this review, we briefly summarize the mechanisms described on this topic for higher vertebrates and discuss why many of them may operate in the fish gut representing a model for different mucosal tissues.
Keywords: SCFA; fish; host–microbe; humans; immunity; microbiota; prebiotics; probiotics; vertebrates.