Impact of occupational exposure on human microbiota

Curr Opin Allergy Clin Immunol. 2019 Apr;19(2):86-91. doi: 10.1097/ACI.0000000000000502.


Purpose of review: Recent evidence suggests that environmental exposures change the adult human microbiome. Here, we review recent evidence on the impact of the work microbiome and work-related chemical, metal and particulate exposures on the human microbiome.

Recent findings: Prior literature on occupational microbial exposures has focused mainly on the respiratory effects of endotoxin, but a recent study suggests that not all endotoxin is the same; endotoxin from some species is proinflammatory, whereas endotoxin from other species is anti-inflammatory. Work with animals can change the adult human microbiome, likely through colonization. Early studies in military personnel and animal models of gulf war illness show that military exposures change the gut microbiome and increase gut permeability. Heavy metal and particulate matter exposure, which are often elevated in occupational settings, also change the gut microbiome.

Summary: An emerging body of literature shows that work-related exposures can change the human microbiome. The health effects of these changes are currently not well studied. If work exposures lead to disease through alterations in the human microbiome, exposure cessation without addressing changes to the human microbiome may be ineffective for disease prevention and treatment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endotoxins
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Military Personnel
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Particulate Matter
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / etiology*
  • Workplace


  • Endotoxins
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Particulate Matter