Over the last few decades, advances in our understanding of microbial ecology have allowed us to appreciate the important role of microbial communities in maintaining human health. While much of this research has focused on gut microbes, microbial communities in other body sites and from the environment are increasingly recognized in human disease. Here, we discuss recent advances in our understanding of host–microbiota interactions in the development and manifestation of asthma focusing on three distinct microbial compartments. First, environmental microbes originating from house dust, pets, and farm animals have been linked to asthma pathogenesis, which is often connected to their production of bioactive molecules such as lipopolysaccharide. Second, respiratory microbial communities, including newly appreciated populations of microbes in the lung have been associated with allergic airway inflammation. Current evidence suggests that the presence of particular microbes, especially Streptococcus, Haemophilus, and Morexella species within the airway may shape local immune responses and alter the severity and manifestations of airway inflammation. Third, the gut microbiota has been implicated in both experimental models and clinical studies in predisposing to asthma. There appears to be a “critical window” of colonization that occurs during early infancy in which gut microbial communities shape immune maturation and confer susceptibility to allergic airway inflammation. The mechanisms by which gut microbial communities influence lung immune responses and physiology, the “gut–lung axis,” are still being defined but include the altered differentiation of immune cell populations important in asthma and the local production of metabolites that affect distal sites. Together, these findings suggest an intimate association of microbial communities with host immune development and the development of allergic airway inflammation. Improved understanding of these relationships raises the possibility of microbiota-directed therapies to improve or prevent asthma.
- Gut–lung axis