Lactobacilli as multifaceted probiotics with poorly disclosed molecular mechanisms

Int J Food Microbiol. 2010 Oct 15;143(3):87-102. doi: 10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2010.07.032. Epub 2010 Aug 7.


Lactic acid bacteria and more particularly lactobacilli have been used for the production of fermented foods for centuries. Several lactobacilli have been recognized as probiotics due to their wide range of health-promoting effects in humans. However, little is known about the molecular mechanisms underpinning their probiotic functions. Here we reviewed the main beneficial effects of lactobacilli and discussed, when the information is available, the molecular machinery involved in their probiotic function. Among the beneficial effects, lactobacilli can improve digestion, absorption and availability of nutrients. As an example, some strains are able to degrade carbohydrates such as lactose or α-galactosides that may cause abdominal pain. Furthermore, they can hydrolyze compounds that limit the bioavailability of minerals like tannin and phytate due to tannin acylhydrolase and phytase activities. In addition, it was shown that some lactobacilli strains can improve mineral absorption in Caco-2 cells. Lactobacilli can also contribute to improve the nutritional status of the host by producing B group vitamins. More recently, the role of lactobacilli in energy homeostasis, particularly in obese patients, is the object of an increased interest. Lactobacilli are also involved in the prevention of diseases. They have potential to prevent carcinogenesis through the modulation of enzymes involved in the xenobiotic pathway, and may prevent cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension through the production of a bioactive peptide that may have angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor activity. Lactobacilli are increasingly studied for the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases and exhibit interesting potential in the reduction of pain perception. The ability of some strains to bind to intestinal cells, their pathogen-associated molecular patterns and the metabolites they produce confer interesting immunomodulatory effects. Finally, pathogenic fungi, virus or bacteria can be inhibited by probiotics. They can reinforce the intestinal barrier, simply occupying the ecological niche, or they can have an active role by synthesizing various metabolites inhibiting pathogen development. Lactobacilli have a long standing history with foods and humans but comparatively, their history as probiotics is recent. Their effects are investigated in in vitro and in vivo models leading sometimes to contradictory or controversial results that make necessary final demonstrations through clinical trials. Researches on molecular mechanisms involved in the beneficial effects reviewed here are necessary for a better understanding of these effects, but could also lead to the development of molecular tools to help the screening of the probiotic potential of lactobacilli that are common inhabitants of numerous fermented foods around the world.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Food Microbiology
  • Humans
  • Lactobacillus / metabolism*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Probiotics / metabolism*
  • Weight Gain