Several studies have investigated the ability of probiotics to regulate antibody production. Initial animal studies showed that probiotics were able to potentiate systemic antibody responses to parenterally delivered foreign antigens in mice (Portier et al., 1993) and that serum levels of IgG and IgM isotypes were elevated (Perdigon et al., 1991, 1999). Subsequent studies have indicated that probiotic strains such as L. rhamnosus HN001 or B. lactis HN019 can potentiate antibody responses to both systemically and orally administered T-dependent antigens in mice and that increases in specific antibody titre can be measured in both the serum and intestinal-tract secretions, the latter involving a rise in IgA levels (Yasui et al., 1989; Yasui and Ohwaki, 1991; Herias et al., 1999; Tejada-Simon et al., 1999a; Gill et al., 2000). Since the major GI antibody secretion is derived from plasma cells of the lamina propria, these results suggest that probiotics are able to stimulate the mucosal immune system, possibly via direct interaction with immunocompetent T-cells of the GI tract. Indeed, recent studies in mice have indicated that probiotic LAB are able to increase the mucosal density of IgM- and IgA-secreting plasma cells in both gut epithelial and broncho-alveolar lymphoid tissues (Bibas Bonet et al., 1999; Perdigon et al., 1999).
Under disease conditions, animal studies have also indicated that probiotic delivery can increase GI tract and systemic antibody responses to bacterial pathogens, including Escherichia coli (Perdigon et al., 1990, 1991), Shigella sonnei (Nader de Marcias et al., 1992) and Salmonella typhimurium (Paubert-Braquet et al., 1995; Shu et al., 2000). Clinical studies have demonstrated that the orally delivered probiotic L. rhamnosus GG can also increase the frequency of pathogen-specific and total antibody-secreting cells in children during convalescence from rotavirus diarrhoea (Kaila et al., 1992; Majamaa et al., 1995). However, in the case of non-infectious diseases, such as atopy, it appears that certain probiotic bacteria are able to exert a regulatory, rather than enhancing, effect on antibody production. Several studies have shown that IgE responses in allergen-primed mice can be attenuated by the oral or systemic delivery of probiotic LAB (Matsuzaki et al., 1998; Shida et al., 1998; Yasui et al., 1999a; Matsuzaki and Chin, 2000), suggesting that an ability to regulate immune responses may play an important role. Indeed, in vitro studies by Murosaki et al. (1998) have shown that adding L. casei (Shirota strain) to cultures of allergen-reactive murine splenocytes can directly suppress IgE production.
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