Immune modulation by different types of β2→1-fructans is toll-like receptor dependent

PLoS One. 2013 Jul 5;8(7):e68367. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0068367. Print 2013.


Introduction: β2→1-fructans are dietary fibers. Main objectives of this study were 1) to demonstrate direct signalling of β2→1-fructans on immune cells, 2) to study whether this is mediated by the pattern recognition receptors Toll-like receptors (TLRs) and nucleotide-binding oligomerisation domain-containing proteins (NODs), and 3) to relate the observed effects to the chain length differences in β2→1-fructans.

Methods: Four different β2→1-fructan formulations were characterised for their chain length profile. Human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were stimulated in vitro with β2→1-fructans, and production of IL-1Ra, IL-1β, IL-6, IL-10, IL-12p70, and TNF-α was analysed. Reporter cells for TLRs and NODs were incubated with β2→1-fructans and analysed for NF-κB/AP-1 activation.

Results: Cytokine production in human PBMCs was dose- and chain length-dependent. Strikingly, short chain enriched β2→1-fructans induced a regulatory cytokine balance compared to long chain enriched β2→1-fructans as measured by IL-10/IL-12 ratios. Activation of reporter cells showed that signalling was highly dependent on TLRs and their adapter, myeloid differentiation primary response protein 88 (MyD88). In human embryonic kidney reporter cells, TLR2 was prominently activated, while TLR4, 5, 7, 8, and NOD2 were mildly activated.

Conclusions: β2→1-fructans possess direct signalling capacity on human immune cells. By activating primarily TLR2, and to a lesser extent TLR4, 5, 7, 8, and NOD2, β2→1-fructan stimulation results in NF-κB/AP-1 activation. Chain length of β2→1-fructans is important for the induced activation pattern and IL-10/IL-12 ratios.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Dietary Fiber / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Fructans / chemistry
  • Fructans / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology*
  • Inulin / chemistry
  • Inulin / pharmacology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / drug effects
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / metabolism
  • Myeloid Differentiation Factor 88 / metabolism
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Nod1 Signaling Adaptor Protein / metabolism
  • Toll-Like Receptors / metabolism*
  • Transcription Factor AP-1 / metabolism


  • Cytokines
  • Dietary Fiber
  • Fructans
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Myeloid Differentiation Factor 88
  • NF-kappa B
  • Nod1 Signaling Adaptor Protein
  • Toll-Like Receptors
  • Transcription Factor AP-1
  • Inulin

Grant support

Within the framework of the Carbohydrate Competence Center, this research has been financially supported by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund, and The Northern Netherlands Provinces (Samenwerkingsverband Noord-Nederland), KOERS NOORD. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.