Influence of the gastrointestinal microbiota on development of the immune system in young animals

E. Bauer, B.A. Williams, H. Smidt, M.W.A. Verstegen, R. Mosenthin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

136 Citations (Scopus)


The gastrointestinal tract (GIT) of adult mammals is colonized by a complex and dynamic community of microorganisms. Most protection against potential pathogens occurs via a mucosal immune system involving mechanisms of innate immunity as well as a secondary lymphoid organ, the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). However, the bacterial community also supports its host against invasion by potential pathogens, by a mechanism called 'colonization resistance'. Young animals need time to develop both a complex bacterial community and their immature GIT immune system, and until such developments have taken place, they are vulnerable to the presence of potential pathogens in their GIT. Initial protection against invading pathogens is provided by milk and colostrum, which contain antibodies and other bioactive components. At weaning, with the introduction of solid food and deprivation of the mother's milk, the young must also cope with a rapidly changing microbiota. The colonizing microbiota not only provides colonization resistance to potentially pathogenic bacteria. It also has a major role in the development of the intestinal immune system, both in terms of GALT development and mucosal immunity, and the induction of oral tolerance. Studies using gnotobiotic animal models have revealed that the presence of even limited numbers of the indigenous microbiota may influence the GIT immune system. Regulation of the composition of the GIT microbiota, e.g. by the use of pre- and probiotics, offers the possibility to influence the development of mucosal, and also systemic immunity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-52
JournalCurrent Issues in Intestinal Microbiology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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