SCIENCE CHINA Life Sciences, Volume 60 , Issue 12 : 1407-1415(2017) https://doi.org/10.1007/s11427-017-9151-1

Role of microbiota on lung homeostasis and diseases

Jian Wang 1,2,†,*, Fengqi Li 1,†, Zhigang Tian 1,3,*
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  • ReceivedMay 4, 2017
  • AcceptedJun 12, 2017
  • PublishedOct 9, 2017


The lungs, as a place of gas exchange, are continuously exposed to environmental stimuli, such as allergens, microbes, and pollutants. The development of the culture-independent technique for microbiological analysis, such as 16S rRNA sequencing, has uncovered that the lungs are not sterile and, in fact, colonized by diverse communities of microbiota. The function of intestinal microbiota in modulating mucosal homeostasis and defense has been widely studied; however, the potential function of lung microbiota in regulating immunity and homeostasis has just begun. Increasing evidence indicates the relevance of microbiota to lung homeostasis and disease. In this review, we describe the distribution and composition of microbiota in the respiratory system and discuss the potential function of lung microbiota in both health and acute/chronic lung disease. In addition, we also discuss the recent understanding of the gut-lung axis, because several studies have revealed that the immunological interaction among the gut, the lung, and the microbiota was involved in this issue.

Funded by

Natural Science Foundation of China(31400783,91542000)


This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31400783, 91542000).

Interest statement

The author(s) declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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  • Figure 1

    (Color online) The lung microbiota play roles in lung homeostasis maintenance. A, Similar as intestinal microbiota, lung microbiota might also be recognized by pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) and then promote the polarization of naïve T cells in the lungs from Th2 to Th1 after birth to protect against neonatal asthma and allergy. This issue needs to be determined. B, In neonate’s lungs, the bacterial load increases, and the bacterial phyla shifts from Gammaproteobacteria and Firmicutes towards Bacteroidetes. The changes of the microbiota are associated with the development of Helios-negative Treg cells in the lungs that subsequently inhibit the exaggerated inflammatory response to allergens through to adulthood. C, Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), a common microbiota in upper respiratory tract and lung, promote the differentiation of M2 alveolar macrophages then provide protection against lethal inflammation in the lungs caused by influenza infection.

  • Figure 2

    (Color online) The bridge function of microbiota in the gut-lung axis. A, Dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiota is linkage to the pathogenesis and progression of asthma, and depletion or absence of intestinal microbiota leads to impaired immune responses following viral or bacterial respiratory infection. B, Respiratory influenza infection changes the composition of intestinal microbiota and causes intestinal immune injury, and the allergic response in the lungs affects the composition of the intestinal microbiota.

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