In this Nature Medicine news article, Roxanne Khamsi reports on research around the world showing the microbiome exerts an influence on the human immune system. If scientists knew how to control the key process of inflammation, they could profoundly influence the course of disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, and liver disease.

Khamsi covers several possibilities on how gut microbiota could modulate inflammation, noting the challenges of establishing cause and effect. Probiotics and prebiotics are the two main products under investigation for altering microbial communities; of particular interest is how these two things might affect the production of gut microbe metabolites (such as fatty acids), which seem to be responsible for dampening inflammation in many situations.

As for probiotics, Khamsi says there is a growing consensus that they work best if multiple strains of bacteria are delivered at once. Moreover, the strains should ideally be tailored to the individual.

Meanwhile, several prominent researchers — including as Delzenne and Cani of Belgium — are investigating prebiotics in earnest. Prebiotics may have the most immediate promise for modulating the microbiota and controlling inflammation, according to researcher Stanley Hazen of Ohio, USA.


Khamsi R. (2015) A gut feeling about immunity. Nature Medicine doi:10.1038/nm.3906