2014 Volume 90 Issue 9 Pages 313-332
Symbiosis between intestinal microbiota and the host animal plays an important role in the homeostasis of host physiology. Since the first production of germ-free rodents in 1945, it has become increasingly clear that the intestinal immune system and the biochemical characteristics of epithelial cells differ greatly between conventional and germ-free rodents. However, questions remain about the types of microbes involved and the precise mechanism by which these microbes affect the host physiology. Here, we review experiments designed to answer these questions with the use of gnotobiotic mice. We have determined suitable biochemical and immunological markers for monitoring microbial effects in these mice. Using these markers, we have found clear differences in epithelial cell glycolipid biosynthesis and intraepithelial lymphocyte dynamics between germ-free and conventional mice. Furthermore, we have identified a key microbe that activates the mucosal immune system in the small intestine. This indigenous bacteria, called segmented filamentous bacteria, is a key symbiont in the host-microbiota interplay, including Th17 cell-inducing activity.