Beneficial effects of probiotics in upper respiratory tract infections and their mechanical actions to antagonize pathogens

J Appl Microbiol. 2012 Dec;113(6):1305-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2012.05394.x. Epub 2012 Aug 3.


Probiotics are live micro-organisms with beneficial effects on human health, which have the ability to counteract infections at different locations of the body. Clinical trials have shown that probiotics can be used as preventive and therapeutic agents in upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) and otitis. Their mechanical properties allow them to aggregate and to compete with pathogens for nutrients, space and attachment to host cells. Consequently, they can directly antagonize pathogens and thus exert beneficial effects without directly affecting the metabolism of the host. An overview of the probiotics with such traits, tested up to date in clinical trials for the prevention or treatment of URTIs and otitis, is presented in this review. Their mechanical properties in the respiratory tract as well as at other locations are also cited. Species with interesting in vitro properties towards pharyngeal cells or against common respiratory pathogens have also been included. The potential safety risks of the cited species are then discussed. This review could be of help in the screening of probiotic strains with specific mechanical properties susceptible to have positive effects in clinical trials against URTIs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibiosis
  • Bacterial Adhesion
  • Bifidobacterium
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Lactobacillus
  • Otitis / therapy
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use*
  • Respiratory System / microbiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / therapy*
  • Streptococcus