Optimal antimicrobial response to a changing microbial background at a mucus interface

Guilherme Volpe Bossa, Shai Bel, Andrew Mugler, Amir Erez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Complex lifeforms host microbiota, microbes that live synergistically with their host. Accordingly, hosts have mechanisms to defend against and tolerate the microbiota. The intestinal mucus, where these systems collide, plays a pivotal role in managing this relationship, yet lacks an integrative theoretical framework. We propose a minimal model to elucidate dynamics at this interface, focusing on the ileum's mucus defense. The model considers the effect of delay in host antimicrobial peptide secretion and how the host can use two different signals, from the bulk microbiota and from segmented filamentous bacteria (SFB), assuming that the SFB anticipate the bulk microbiota. We propose a theory whereby the host can optimize defense by minimizing antimicrobial peptide production and controlling bacterial exposure. Integrating two recent experiments, we show host dynamics are consistent with sensing both bulk and SFB, supporting our "optimal defense"hypothesis. Therefore, we propose that similar mechanisms could prove advantageous to other species and applicable beyond the ileum's mucus barrier.

Original languageEnglish
Article number023027
JournalPhysical Review Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 authors. Published by the American Physical Society. Published by the American Physical Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. Further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the published article's title, journal citation, and DOI.


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