Cooperative Microbial Tolerance Behaviors in Host-Microbiota Mutualism

Cell. 2016 Jun 2;165(6):1323-1331. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.05.049.


Animal defense strategies against microbes are most often thought of as a function of the immune system, the primary function of which is to sense and kill microbes through the execution of resistance mechanisms. However, this antagonistic view creates complications for our understanding of beneficial host-microbe interactions. Pathogenic microbes are described as employing a few common behaviors that promote their fitness at the expense of host health and fitness. Here, a complementary framework is proposed to suggest that, in addition to pathogens, beneficial microbes have evolved behaviors to manipulate host processes in order to promote their own fitness and do so through the promotion of host health and fitness. In this Perspective, I explore the idea that patterns or behaviors traditionally ascribed to pathogenic microbes are also employed by beneficial microbes to promote host tolerance defense strategies. Such strategies would promote host health without having a negative impact on microbial fitness and would thereby yield cooperative evolutionary dynamics that are likely required to drive mutualistic co-evolution of hosts and microbes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Inflammation
  • Microbiota* / immunology
  • Symbiosis* / immunology
  • Virulence Factors / physiology


  • Virulence Factors