Infections train the microbiome to defend against future threats



Human barrier tissues such as the lungs, skin, and gut co-evolved with the microbes that inhabit them, known as the microbiome, thereby giving rise to extraordinarily complex pathways, interactions, and communications between them that profoundly affect health. In addition to serving as a powerful force against invading pathogens, the microbiome also has systemic effects on inflammation and immunity, as well as metabolic, cardiovascular, and neurological functions. However, use of antibiotics to treat a multitude of health conditions is leading to infectious threats that are increasingly resistant to the treatments. Thus, there is a need to develop new approaches for combating antibiotic-resistant infections.


IRP investigators led by Yasmine Belkaid, Ph.D., discovered that previously infected mice have gut microbiomes that are better able to resist subsequent infections. What’s more, their experiments showed that previously infected mice generated more of a chemical called taurine and certain microbes living in the gut feed on taurine in order to kill harmful bacteria. Specifically, the researchers discovered that the gut microbes convert taurine to sulfide, which in high levels inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. As a result, they found, supplying taurine by itself as a supplement is sufficient to alter the microbiome and enhance resistance to infection.


The investigators revealed key players underlying enhanced antimicrobial defense, demonstrating the ability of the microbiome to retain a memory of previous infections and establish a long-term protective response to bacterial threats. Understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms involved in fighting infection can lead to the identification of novel microbiome-based therapeutics to combat infectious diseases, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria.


Stacy A, Andrade-Oliveira V, McCulloch JA, Hild B, Oh JH, Perez-Chaparro PJ, Sim CK, Lim AI, Link VM, Enamorado M, Trinchieri G, Segre JA, Rehermann B, Belkaid Y. (2021). Infection trains the host for microbiota-enhanced resistance to pathogens. Cell. Feb 4;184(3):615-627.e17. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.12.011.

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This page was last updated on Thursday, June 8, 2023