Gut microbiota is an assortment of microorganisms inhabiting the length and width of the mammalian gastrointestinal tract. The composition of this microbial community is host specific, evolving throughout an individual's lifetime and susceptible to both exogenous and endogenous modifications. Recent renewed interest in the structure and function of this “organ” has illuminated its central position in health and disease. The microbiota is intimately involved in numerous aspects of normal host physiology, from nutritional status to behavior and stress response. Additionally, they can be a central or a contributing cause of many diseases, affecting both near and far organ systems. The overall balance in the composition of the gut microbial community, as well as the presence or absence of key species capable of effecting specific responses, is important in ensuring homeostasis or lack thereof at the intestinal mucosa and beyond. The mechanisms through which microbiota exerts its beneficial or detrimental influences remain largely undefined, but include elaboration of signaling molecules and recognition of bacterial epitopes by both intestinal epithelial and mucosal immune cells. The advances in modeling and analysis of gut microbiota will further our knowledge of their role in health and disease, allowing customization of existing and future therapeutic and prophylactic modalities.
- Copyright © 2010 the American Physiological Society