Mechanisms by which gut microorganisms influence food sensitivities

Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019 Jan;16(1):7-18. doi: 10.1038/s41575-018-0064-z.


Finely tuned mechanisms enable the gastrointestinal tract to break down dietary components into nutrients without mounting, in the majority of cases, a dysregulated immune or functional host response. However, adverse reactions to food have been steadily increasing, and evidence suggests that this process is environmental. Adverse food reactions can be divided according to their underlying pathophysiology into food intolerances, when, for instance, there is deficiency of a host enzyme required to digest the food component, and food sensitivities, when immune mechanisms are involved. In this Review, we discuss the clinical and experimental evidence for enteric infections and/or alterations in the gut microbiota in inciting food sensitivity. We focus on mechanisms by which microorganisms might provide direct pro-inflammatory signals to the host promoting breakdown of oral tolerance to food antigens or indirect pathways that involve the metabolism of protein antigens and other dietary components by gut microorganisms. Better understanding of these mechanisms will help in the development of preventive and therapeutic strategies for food sensitivities.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Celiac Disease / etiology
  • Celiac Disease / immunology
  • Food Hypersensitivity / etiology*
  • Food Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Lactobacillus / immunology