The microbiome and autoimmunity: a paradigm from the gut-liver axis

Cell Mol Immunol. 2018 Jun;15(6):595-609. doi: 10.1038/cmi.2018.7. Epub 2018 Apr 30.


Microbial cells significantly outnumber human cells in the body, and the microbial flora at mucosal sites are shaped by environmental factors and, less intuitively, act on host immune responses, as demonstrated by experimental data in germ-free and gnotobiotic studies. Our understanding of this link stems from the established connection between infectious bacteria and immune tolerance breakdown, as observed in rheumatic fever triggered by Streptococci via molecular mimicry, epitope spread and bystander effects. The availability of high-throughput techniques has significantly advanced our capacity to sequence the microbiome and demonstrated variable degrees of dysbiosis in numerous autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and autoimmune liver disease. It remains unknown whether the observed differences are related to the disease pathogenesis or follow the therapeutic and inflammatory changes and are thus mere epiphenomena. In fact, there are only limited data on the molecular mechanisms linking the microbiota to autoimmunity, and microbial therapeutics is being investigated to prevent or halt autoimmune diseases. As a putative mechanism, it is of particular interest that the apoptosis of intestinal epithelial cells in response to microbial stimuli enables the presentation of self-antigens, giving rise to the differentiation of autoreactive Th17 cells and other T helper cells. This comprehensive review will illustrate the data demonstrating the crosstalk between intestinal microbiome and host innate and adaptive immunity, with an emphasis on how dysbiosis may influence systemic autoimmunity. In particular, a gut-liver axis involving the intestinal microbiome and hepatic autoimmunity is elucidated as a paradigm, considering its anatomic and physiological connections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • Autoimmune Diseases / microbiology
  • Autoimmunity*
  • Cell Movement
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / immunology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Liver / immunology*
  • Liver / microbiology*
  • Microbiota*