Nowadays, use of prebiotics as feed and food additives has received increasing interest because of the beneficial effects of prebiotics on the health of animals and humans. One of the beneficial effects of prebiotics is stimulation of immune system, which can be direct or indirect through increasing population of beneficial microbes or probiotics, especially lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria, in the gut. An important mechanism of action of probiotics and prebiotics, by which they can affect the immune system, is changing the expression of cytokines. The present review tried to summarize the findings of studies that investigated the effects of prebiotics on immune system with focusing on their effects on cytokine expression. Generally, most of reviewed studies indicated beneficial effects for prebiotics in terms of improving immune system, by increasing the expression of anti-inflammatory cytokines, while reducing the expressions of proinflammatory cytokines. However, most of studies mainly considered the indirect effects of prebiotics on the immune system (through changing the composition and population of gut microbiota), and their direct effects still need to be further studied using prebiotics with different degree of polymerization in different hosts.
Keywords: Cytokine; Immunomodulatory; Inflammatory; Oligosaccharide; Prebiotic.