The mammalian gastrointestinal (GI) microbiota is highly adapted to thrive in the GI environment and performs key functions related to host nutrition, physiology, development, immunity, and behavior. Successful host-bacterial associations require chemical signaling and optimal nutrient utilization and exchange. However, this important balance can be severely disrupted by environmental stimuli, with one of the most common insults upon the microbiota being infectious diseases. Although the microbiota acts as a barrier toward enteric pathogens, many enteric pathogens exploit signals and nutrients derived from both the microbiota and host to regulate their virulence programs. Here we review several signaling and nutrient recognition systems employed by GI pathogens to regulate growth and virulence. We discuss how shifts in the microbiota composition change host susceptibility to infection and how dietary changes or manipulation of the microbiota could potentially prevent and/or ameliorate GI infections.
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