The mammalian intestine provides a unique niche for a large community of bacterial symbionts that complements the host in digestive and anabolic pathways, as well as in protection from pathogens. Only a few bacterial phyla have adapted to this predominantly anaerobic environment, but hundreds of different species create an ecosystem that affects many facets of the host's physiology. Recent data show how particular symbionts are involved in the maturation of the immune system, in the intestine and beyond, and how dysbiosis, or alteration of that community, can deregulate immunity and lead to immunopathology. The extensive and dynamic interactions between the symbionts and the immune system are key to homeostasis and health, and require all the blends of so-called regulatory and pro-inflammatory immune reactions. Unfortunately, pro-inflammatory immunity leading to the generation of Th17 cells has been mainly associated with its role in immunopathology. Here we discuss the view that the immune system in general, and type 17 immunity in particular, develop to maintain the equilibrium of the host with its symbionts.
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