A clinical update on the significance of the gut microbiota in systemic autoimmunity

J Autoimmun. 2016 Nov;74:85-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2016.06.009. Epub 2016 Jul 29.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex autoimmune disease where a loss of tolerance to nuclear antigens leads to inflammation in multiple organ systems. The cause of SLE remains ill defined, although it is known that a complex interplay between genes and environment is necessary for disease development. In recent years, case studies have reported that the incidence of SLE in the USA, for example, has increased by approximately 3 fold. Although the reason for this is likely to be multifactorial, it has been hypothesized that the increasing incidence of autoimmune disease is due to considerable shifts in the bacterial communities resident the gut, collectively known as the gut microbiota, following a change in diet and the widespread introduction of antibiotics. Furthermore, a growing body of evidence suggests that the gut microbiota plays a role in the development of a range of autoimmune diseases including inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, type one diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. In this review, we summarize how advances in DNA-based sequencing technologies have been critical in providing baseline information concerning the gut microbiota in health and how variation amongst individuals in controlled by multiples factors including age, genetics, environment and the diet. We also discuss the importance of the gut microbiota in the development of a healthy immune system and how changes in particular bacterial phyla have been associated with immune abnormalities in animal models of autoimmune disease. Finally, in order to place the data in a clinical context, we highlight recent findings showing that abnormalities in the gut microbiota can be detected in patients with SLE, which provides the rationale for greater investigation into whether microbiota-targeted therapies could be used for the treatment/prevention of disease.

Keywords: Autoimmunity; Dysbiosis; Gut microbiota; Inflammation.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / etiology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / metabolism
  • Autoimmune Diseases / therapy
  • Autoimmunity*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dysbiosis / immunology
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / cytology
  • Immune System / immunology
  • Immune System / metabolism
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / etiology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / metabolism
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / therapy
  • Risk Factors