Human microbiomes have received increasing attention over the last 10 years, leading to a pervasiveness of hypotheses relating dysbiosis to health and disease. The respiratory tract has received much less attention in this respect than that of, for example, the human gut. Nevertheless, progress has been made in elucidating the immunological, ecological and environmental drivers that govern these microbial consortia and the potential consequences of aberrant microbiomes. In this review, we consider the microbiome of the nasopharynx, a specific niche of the upper respiratory tract. The nasopharynx is an important site, anatomically with respect to its gateway position between upper and lower airways, and for pathogenic bacterial colonisation. The dynamics of the latter are important for long-term respiratory morbidity, acute infections of both invasive and non-invasive disease and associations with chronic airway disease exacerbations. Here, we review the development of the nasopharyngeal (NP) microbiome over the life course, examining it from the early establishment of resilient profiles in neonates through to perturbations associated with pneumonia risk in the elderly. We focus specifically on the commensal, opportunistically pathogenic members of the NP microbiome that includes Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae and Moraxella catarrhalis. In addition, we consider the role of relatively harmless genera such as Dolosigranulum and Corynebacterium. Understanding that the NP microbiome plays such a key, beneficial role in maintaining equilibrium of commensal species, prevention of pathogen outgrowth and host immunity enables future research to be directed appropriately.

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