Parasite-Microbiota Interactions With the Vertebrate Gut: Synthesis Through an Ecological Lens

Front Microbiol. 2018 May 14;9:843. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2018.00843. eCollection 2018.


The vertebrate gut teems with a large, diverse, and dynamic bacterial community that has pervasive effects on gut physiology, metabolism, and immunity. Under natural conditions, these microbes share their habitat with a similarly dynamic community of eukaryotes (helminths, protozoa, and fungi), many of which are well-known parasites. Both parasites and the prokaryotic microbiota can dramatically alter the physical and immune landscape of the gut, creating ample opportunities for them to interact. Such interactions may critically alter infection outcomes and affect overall host health and disease. For instance, parasite infection can change how a host interacts with its bacterial flora, either driving or protecting against dysbiosis and inflammatory disease. Conversely, the microbiota can alter a parasite's colonization success, replication, and virulence, shifting it along the parasitism-mutualism spectrum. The mechanisms and consequences of these interactions are just starting to be elucidated in an emergent transdisciplinary area at the boundary of microbiology and parasitology. However, heterogeneity in experimental designs, host and parasite species, and a largely phenomenological and taxonomic approach to synthesizing the literature have meant that common themes across studies remain elusive. Here, we use an ecological perspective to review the literature on interactions between the prokaryotic microbiota and eukaryotic parasites in the vertebrate gut. Using knowledge about parasite biology and ecology, we discuss mechanisms by which they may interact with gut microbes, the consequences of such interactions for host health, and how understanding parasite-microbiota interactions may lead to novel approaches in disease control.

Keywords: germ-free; gnotobiotic; gut microbiota; helminth; interactions; parasite; probiotic; protozoa.

Publication types

  • Review