These microbes that colonize the skin are generally referred to as commensals. Each type of microbe triggers unique aspects of the immune system, suggesting that immune cells found in the skin can rapidly sense and respond to changes in microbial communities, the findings showed.

"These findings reveal that the skin immune landscape is a highly dynamic environment that can be rapidly and specifically remodelled by encounters with defined commensals," said Shruti Naik from Rockefeller University, New York.

"The findings have profound implications for our understanding of tissue-specific immunity and pathologies," Naik added.

The researchers found that mice colonized with S epidermidis were protected against infection with a disease-causing fungus. This was because S epidermidis increased the number of CD8+ T immune cells, which produced the chemical messenger IL-17A.

Depleting CD8+ T cells or neutralizing IL-17A removed this protective effect. Dendritic cells, another type of immune cell, played a key role in generating this specific, non-inflammatory response.

The ability of different microbes to trigger distinct aspects of the immune system without causing inflammation opens the possibility of discovering new immune-boosting substances that may be added to vaccines or medications.

The findings appeared online in the journal Nature.

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