The mammalian intestine is home to ~100 trillion bacteria that perform important metabolic functions for their hosts. The proximity of vast numbers of bacteria to host intestinal tissues raises the question of how symbiotic host-bacterial relationships are maintained without eliciting potentially harmful immune responses. Here, we show that RegIIIγ, a secreted antibacterial lectin, is essential for maintaining a ~50-micrometer zone that physically separates the microbiota from the small intestinal epithelial surface. Loss of host-bacterial segregation in RegIIIγ(-/-) mice was coupled to increased bacterial colonization of the intestinal epithelial surface and enhanced activation of intestinal adaptive immune responses by the microbiota. Together, our findings reveal that RegIIIγ is a fundamental immune mechanism that promotes host-bacterial mutualism by regulating the spatial relationships between microbiota and host.
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