Enteric immunity, the gut microbiome, and sepsis: Rethinking the germ theory of disease

Javier Cabrera-Perez, Vladimir P. Badovinac, Thomas S Griffith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Sepsis is a poorly understood syndrome of systemic inflammation responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. The integrity of the gut epithelium and competence of adaptive immune responses are notoriously compromised during sepsis, and the prevalent assumption in the scientific and medical community is that intestinal commensals have a detrimental role in the systemic inflammation and susceptibility to nosocomial infections seen in critically ill, septic patients. However, breakthroughs in the last decade provide strong credence to the idea that our mucosal microbiome plays an essential role in adaptive immunity, where a human host and its prokaryotic colonists seem to exist in a carefully negotiated armistice with compromises and benefits that go both ways. In this review, we re-examine the notion that intestinal contents are the driving force of critical illness. An overview of the interaction between the microbiome and the immune system is provided, with a special focus on the impact of commensals in priming and the careful balance between normal intestinal flora and pathogenic organisms residing in the gut microbiome. Based on the data in hand, we hypothesize that sepsis induces imbalances in microbial populations residing in the gut, along with compromises in epithelial integrity. As a result, normal antigen sampling becomes impaired, and proliferative cues are intermixed with inhibitory signals. This situates the microbiome, the gut, and its complex immune network of cells and bacteria, at the center of aberrant immune responses during and after sepsis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-139
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Merit Review Award (T.S.G.) and National Institutes of Health Grants T32AI007313 (J.C.-P.), AI119160, AI114543, and GM113961 (V.P.B.), and GM115462 (T.S.G.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, © 2016 by the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine.


  • Sepsis
  • T cell
  • apoptosis
  • gut microbiome
  • immune suppression
  • infection


Dive into the research topics of 'Enteric immunity, the gut microbiome, and sepsis: Rethinking the germ theory of disease'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this