The potential for the positive manipulation of the gut microbiome through the introduction of beneficial microbes, as also known as probiotics, is currently an active area of investigation. The FAO/WHO define probiotics as live microorganisms that confer a health benefit to the host when administered in adequate amounts. However, dead bacteria and bacterial molecular components may also exhibit probiotic properties. The results of clinical studies have demonstrated the clinical potential of probiotics in many pathologies, such as allergic diseases, diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease and viral infection. Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain the beneficial effects of probiotics, most of which involve gene expression regulation in specific tissues, particularly the intestine and liver. Therefore, the modulation of gene expression mediated by probiotics is an important issue that warrants further investigation. In the present paper, we performed a systematic review of the probiotic-mediated modulation of gene expression that is associated with the immune system and inflammation. Between January 1990 to February 2014, PubMed was searched for articles that were published in English using the MeSH terms "probiotics" and "gene expression" combined with "intestines", "liver", "enterocytes", "antigen-presenting cells", "dendritic cells", "immune system", and "inflammation". Two hundred and five original articles matching these criteria were initially selected, although only those articles that included specific gene expression results (77) were later considered for this review and separated into three major topics: the regulation of immunity and inflammatory gene expression in the gut, in inflammatory diseases of the gut and in the liver. Particular strains of Bifidobacteria, Lactobacilli, Escherichia coli, Propionibacterium, Bacillus and Saccharomyces influence the gene expression of mucins, Toll-like receptors, caspases, nuclear factor-κB, and interleukins and lead mainly to an anti-inflammatory response in cultured enterocytes. In addition, the interaction of commensal bacteria and probiotics with the surface of antigen-presenting cells in vitro results in the downregulation of pro-inflammatory genes that are linked to inflammatory signaling pathways, whereas other anti-inflammatory genes are upregulated. The effects of probiotics have been extensively investigated in animal models ranging from fish to mice, rats and piglets. These bacteria induce a tolerogenic and hyporesponsive immune response in which many genes that are related to the immune system, in particular those genes expressing anti-inflammatory cytokines, are upregulated. By contrast, information related to gene expression in human intestinal cells mediated by the action of probiotics is scarce. There is a need for further clinical studies that evaluate the mechanism of action of probiotics both in healthy humans and in patients with chronic diseases. These types of clinical studies are necessary for addressing the influence of these microorganisms in gene expression for different pathways, particularly those that are associated with the immune response, and to better understand the role that probiotics might have in the prevention and treatment of disease.
Keywords: Gene expression; Gut; Immunity; Immunotolerance; Inflammation; Liver; Microbiota; Probiotics.