Probiotic effects on lymphocytes

The majority of research to characterize probiotic effects on lymphocyte function has utilized animal models for study. Oral delivery of different strains of Lactobacillus has been shown to confer an increased capacity for splenic lymphocytes to proliferate in response to T-cell and B-cell mitogenic stimulation (Vesely et al., 1985; de Simone et al., 1987; Kirjavainen et al., 1999; Gill et al., 2000) and, in at least one case, this general enhancement of lymphocyte function has also been demonstrated at the local level in lymphoid foci of the intestinal tract (i.e. Peyer's patches) (Perdigon et al., 1991). What is not clear at the moment is whether this enhanced capacity for lymphocytes to undergo activation/mitosis is due to increases in population levels (i.e. proportionally more lymphocytes) and/or increases in responsiveness to stimuli (i.e. lymphocytes at a heightened state of preactivation). However, a study by Perdigon et al. (1999) has shown that T-helper (CD4+) lymphocyte numbers are increased in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT) following oral delivery of Lactobacillus casei, providing evidence that probiotic stimulation can increase the size of lymphocyte populations.

Oral delivery of probiotics has also been shown to increase the capacity of systemic lymphocytes to secrete T-cell cytokines in response to appropriate in vitro stimulation. Some strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium have been demonstrated to increase the capacity of murine splenic lymphocytes (Pereyra et al., 1991; Gill, 1998; Matsuzaki and Chin, 2000) and human peripheral-blood lymphocytes (Solis-Pereyra and Lemonnier, 1991) to secrete the cytokine interferon^ (IFN-7), following mitogen stimulation in vitro. Clinical studies have confirmed that certain probiotic LAB can induce increased expression of both type I and type II interferons among peripheral blood mononuclear cells (Kishi et al., 1996; Aattouri and Lemonnier 1997; Solis-Pereyra et al., 1997; Arunachalam et al., 2000; Table 13.2).

Table 13.2. Health benefits of probiotic microorganisms that interact with the immune system.


Immunological effect

Health benefit


Lactobacillus acidophilus

Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG

Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG

Lactobacillus casei Shirota

Î Production of anti-allergy cytokine (IFN-7)

I Expression of inflammatory receptor molecules in milk-hypersensitive subjects; I expression of pro-allergy cytokine (IL-4) in milk-hypersensitive subjects

T Anti-pathogen antibody responses

I Eosinophil count in asthmatic subjects; I IgE levels in elderly subjects with nasal allergies

I Atopic responses in milk-hypersensitive infants and adults

Promotes recovery from acute rotavirus diarrhoea in children; reduces viral shedding

Sutas et al. (1996b); Majamaa & Isolauri (1997); Pelto et al. (1998); Kalliomaki et al. (2001)

T Cellular immune responses I Tumour recurrence in adult Sawamura et al. (1994); Aso et al.

bladder cancer patients (1995) following resection

IFN-7, interferon-7; IL-4, interleukin-4; IgE, immunoglobulin E.

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