The Interplay between the Gut Microbiome and the Immune System in the Context of Infectious Diseases throughout Life and the Role of Nutrition in Optimizing Treatment Strategies

Nutrients. 2021 Mar 9;13(3):886. doi: 10.3390/nu13030886.


Infectious diseases and infections remain a leading cause of death in low-income countries and a major risk to vulnerable groups, such as infants and the elderly. The immune system plays a crucial role in the susceptibility, persistence, and clearance of these infections. With 70-80% of immune cells being present in the gut, there is an intricate interplay between the intestinal microbiota, the intestinal epithelial layer, and the local mucosal immune system. In addition to the local mucosal immune responses in the gut, it is increasingly recognized that the gut microbiome also affects systemic immunity. Clinicians are more and more using the increased knowledge about these complex interactions between the immune system, the gut microbiome, and human pathogens. The now well-recognized impact of nutrition on the composition of the gut microbiota and the immune system elucidates the role nutrition can play in improving health. This review describes the mechanisms involved in maintaining the intricate balance between the microbiota, gut health, the local immune response, and systemic immunity, linking this to infectious diseases throughout life, and highlights the impact of nutrition in infectious disease prevention and treatment.

Keywords: gut health; infectious diseases; microbiome; mucosal immunity; nutrition; systemic immunity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Communicable Diseases / immunology*
  • Communicable Diseases / microbiology*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / microbiology*
  • Immunity, Mucosal
  • Infant
  • Intestinal Mucosa / immunology
  • Intestinal Mucosa / microbiology
  • Male
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / immunology*