Background: The hygiene hypothesis implies that microbial agents including probiotic bacteria may modulate foetal/neonatal immune programming and hence offer effective strategies for primary allergy prevention; however their mechanisms of action are poorly understood. We investigated whether oral administration of Lactobacillus paracasei NCC 2461 to mothers during gestation/lactation can protect against airway inflammation in offspring in a mouse model of birch pollen allergy, and examined the immune mechanisms involved.
Methods: BALB/c mice were treated daily with L. paracasei in drinking water or drinking water alone in the last week of gestation and during lactation. Their offspring were sensitized with recombinant Bet v 1, followed by aerosol challenge with birch pollen extract.
Results: Maternal exposure to L. paracasei prevented the development of airway inflammation in offspring, as demonstrated by attenuation of eosinophil influx in the lungs; reduction of IL-5 levels in bronchoalveolar lavage, and in lung and mediastinal lymph node cell cultures; and reduced peribronchial inflammatory infiltrate and mucus hypersecretion. While allergen-specific IgE and IgG antibody levels remained unchanged by the treatment, IL-4 and IL-5 production in spleen cell cultures were significantly reduced upon allergen stimulation in offspring of L. paracasei treated mice. Offspring of L. paracasei supplemented mothers had significantly reduced Bet v 1-specific as well as Concanavalin A-induced responses in spleen and mesenteric lymph node cell cultures, suggesting the modulation of both antigen-specific and mitogen-induced immune responses in offspring. These effects were associated with increased Foxp3 mRNA expression in the lungs and increased TGF-beta in serum.
Conclusion: Our data show that in a mouse model of birch pollen allergy, perinatal administration of L. paracasei NCC 2461 to pregnant/lactating mothers protects against the development of airway inflammation in offspring by activating regulatory pathways, likely through TLR2/4 signalling.