Over the past several years, there have been remarkable advances in our understanding of how commensal organisms shape host immunity. Although the full cast of immunogenic bacteria and their immunomodulatory molecules remains to be elucidated, lessons learned from the interactions between bacterial zwitterionic polysaccharides (ZPSs) and the host immune system represent an integral step toward better understanding how the intestinal microbiota effect immunologic changes. Somewhat paradoxically, ZPSs, which are found in numerous commensal organisms, are able to elicit both proinflammatory and immunoregulatory responses; both these outcomes involve fine-tuning the balance between T-helper 17 cells and interleukin-10-producing regulatory T cells. In this review, we discuss the immunomodulatory effects of the archetypal ZPS, Bacteroides fragilis PSA. In addition, we highlight some of the opportunities and challenges in applying these lessons in clinical settings.
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