The rapid rise in childhood allergies (atopy) in Westernized nations has implicated associated environmental exposures and lifestyles as primary drivers of disease development. Culture-based microbiological studies indicate that atopy has demonstrable ties to altered gut microbial colonization in very early life. Infants who exhibit more severe multisensitization to food- or aero-allergens have a significantly higher risk of subsequently developing asthma in childhood. Hence an emerging hypothesis posits that environment- or lifestyle-driven aberrancies in the early-life gut microbiome composition and by extension, microbial function, represent a key mediator of childhood allergic asthma. Animal studies support this hypothesis. Environmental microbial exposures epidemiologically associated with allergy protection in humans confer protection against airway allergy in mice. In addition, gut microbiome-derived short-chain fatty acids produced from a high-fiber diet have been shown to protect against allergy via modulation of both local and remote mucosal immunity as well as hematopoietic antigen-presenting cell populations. Here we review key data supporting the concept of a gut-airway axis and its critical role in childhood atopy.
Keywords: allergy; built environment; gastrointestinal tract; microbiome; short chain fatty acids.