Microbial exposures are abundant in these environments and microbial studies investigating stables report a large variety of gram-negative and gram-positive germs as well as a diversity of molds and fungi.
In addition, nonviable parts of microbes, such as endotoxin from the outer wall
of gram-negative bacteria, are found in abundance in stables and also in elevated
concentrations in indoor environments of adjacent farmhouses.
Endotoxins are a family of molecules called lipopolysaccharides (LPS) and are intrinsic parts of the outer membranes of gram-negative bacteria. LPS and other bacterial wall components are found in high concentrations in stables, where pigs, cattle, and poultry are kept engaged with antigen-presenting cells via CD14 ligation to induce strong interleukin (IL)-12 responses. IL-12, in turn, is regarded as an obligatory signal for the maturation of naive T cells into Th1-type cells. Endotoxin concentrations were recently found to be highest in stables of farming families and
also in dust samples from kitchen floors and mattresses in rural areas in southern Germany and Switzerland.
These findings support the hypothesis that environmental exposure to endotoxins and other bacterial wall components is an important protective determinant related to the development of atopic diseases. Indeed, endotoxin levels in samples of dust from children’s mattresses were found to be inversely related to the rate of occurrence of hay fever, atopic asthma, and atopic sensitization.
On the other hand, high exposure to endotoxins may only be a surrogate marker for other bacterial products such as nonmethylated cytidine-guanosine, dinucleotides specific for prokaryotic DNA (CpG motifs). Cell wall components from atypical mycobacteria or gram-positive bacteria, such as lipoteichoic acid, are known to affect immune responses in ways similar to endotoxin.