Microbial Immune Regulation
The microbiota encompasses a diverse population of microorganisms that colonize many body sites such as skin and intestine of multicellular hosts. The composition of the microbiota in humans is highly variable and is influenced by nutrition, immune competence, illness and use of medication (especially antibiotics). We are interested to enhance our understanding on how these microbial communities affect human infectious diseases and how they can be manipulated to treat diseases.
The microbiota fulfills essential tasks for the host metabolism, in regulating intestinal epithelial integrity and repair, as well as mucosal immune responses. In general, the relationship between the host and the microbiota is considered peaceful and even mutualistic, hence harmless members of the microbiota are often named commensal bacteria, from the Latin phrase cum mensa “sharing a table”. The homeostasis between host and microbiota may be disrupted temporarily when pathogenic microbes invade or other environmental changes such as antibiotic treatment trigger the development of an imbalanced microbiota called dysbiosis. Strikingly, dysbiosis has also been noted in many human conditions and diseases including obesity, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease and may directly contribute to causing these diseases.
Commensal bacteria have recently been demonstrated to influence the outcome of microbial infections. For some pathogens commensal bacteria seem to be required for infections, but during many other infections commensals seem to protect the host. This effect has been called colonization resistance whereby resident bacteria compete with pathogens for nutrients and specific niches.
We are using well-defined model systems (i.e. mice with specific microbiota) and a wide variety of techniques (from genetics to bioinformatics) to dissect the relationship of the host specifically the immune system, commensals as well as bacterial and viral pathogens. The elucidation of the underlying regulatory networks promise the development of novel therapeutics to prevent and treat infectious diseases that kill millions of people every year.
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