The microbiota represents the complex collections of microbial communities that colonize a host. In health, the microbiota is essential for metabolism, protection against pathogens and maturation of the immune system. In return, the immune system determines the composition of the microbiota. Altered microbial composition (dysbiosis) has been correlated with a number of diseases in humans. The tight reciprocal immune/microbial interactions complicate determining whether dysbiosis is a cause and/or a consequence of immune dysregulation and disease initiation or progression. However, a number of studies in germ-free and antibiotic-treated animal models support causal roles for intestinal bacteria in disease susceptibility. The role of the microbiota in transplant recipients is only starting to be investigated and its study is further complicated by putative contributions of both recipient and donor microbiota. Moreover, both flora may be affected directly or indirectly by immunosuppressive drugs and antimicrobial prophylaxis taken by transplant patients, as well as by inflammatory processes secondary to ischemia/reperfusion and allorecognition, and the underlying cause of end-organ failure. Whether the ensuing dysbiosis affects alloresponses and whether therapies aimed at correcting dysbiosis should be considered in transplant patients constitutes an exciting new field of research.
The authors review results from the human microbiome project, describe the reciprocal relationships between the microbiota and the host immune system, and discuss their implications for transplantation.