Humans as holobionts: implications for prevention and therapy

Microbiome. 2018 May 1;6(1):81. doi: 10.1186/s40168-018-0466-8.


The human gut microbiota is increasingly recognized for its important or even decisive role in health. As it becomes clear that microbiota and host mutually affect and depend on each other in an intimate relationship, a holistic view of the gut microbiota-host association imposes itself. Ideally, a stable state of equilibrium, homeostasis, is maintained and serves health, but signs are that perturbation of this equilibrium beyond the limits of resilience can propel the system into an alternative stable state, a pre-disease state, more susceptible to the development of chronic diseases. The microbiota-host equilibrium of a large and growing proportion of individuals in Western society may represent such a pre-disease state and explain the explosive development of chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and other inflammatory diseases. These diseases themselves represent other alternative stable states again and are therefore hard to cure. The holistic view of the microbiota-host association where feedback loops between microbiota and host are thought to maintain the system in a stable state-be it a healthy, pre-disease, or disease state-implies that integrated approaches, addressing host processes and microbiota, should be used to treat or prevent (pre-)disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / immunology*
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena / immunology*
  • Dysbiosis / microbiology
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / immunology*
  • Host Microbial Interactions / immunology*
  • Host Microbial Interactions / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / microbiology
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / microbiology
  • Obesity / microbiology
  • Symbiosis / physiology*