To study the mechanism of action of the lactobacilli, splenocytes were incubated with lactobacilli. We compared the ability of live and lyophilized Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus to modulate the production of interleukin 12p40 (IL-12p40), tumor necrosis factor alpha and IL-10 by splenocytes from C57BL/6 and BALB/c mice. Blocking contact between lactobacilli and immune cells abrogated all cytokine production. Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) was partially responsible, but not TLR4 or TLR9, for the induction of cytokine production in splenocytes. All cytokine production declined to basal levels when bacterial phagocytosis was inhibited. This shows that lactobacilli stimulation of cytokine production in splenocytes requires the process of phagocytosis and engagement of TLR2, but not TLR4 or TLR9.