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The short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) butyrate, propionate and acetate are microbial metabolites and their availability in the gut and other organs is determined by environmental factors, such as diet and use of antibiotics, that shape the diversity and metabolism of the microbiota. SCFAs regulate epithelial barrier function as well as mucosal and systemic immunity via evolutionary conserved processes that involve G protein-coupled receptor signalling or histone deacetylase activity. Indicatively, the anti-inflammatory role of butyrate is mediated through direct effects on the differentiation of intestinal epithelial cells, phagocytes, B cells and plasma cells, and regulatory and effector T cells. Intestinally derived SCFAs also directly and indirectly affect immunity at extra-intestinal sites, such as the liver, the lungs, the reproductive tract and the brain, and have been implicated in a range of disorders, including infections, intestinal inflammation, autoimmunity, food allergies, asthma and responses to cancer therapies. An ecological understanding of microbial communities and their interrelated metabolic states, as well as the engineering of butyrogenic bacteria may support SCFA-focused interventions for the prevention and treatment of immune-mediated diseases.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat rev immunol

Publication Date