Gut microbiota and bacterial translocation in digestive surgery: the impact of probiotics

Langenbecks Arch Surg. 2017 May;402(3):401-416. doi: 10.1007/s00423-017-1577-6. Epub 2017 Mar 20.


Purpose: It is conceivable that manipulation of the gut microbiota could reduce the incidence or magnitude of surgical complications in digestive surgery. However, the evidence remains inconclusive, although much effort has been devoted to randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and meta-analyses on probiotics. Furthermore, the mechanism behind the protective effects of probiotics appears elusive, our understanding of probiotic actions being fragmentary. The objective of this review is to assess the clinical relevance of the perioperative use of probiotics in major digestive surgery, based on a comprehensive view of the gut microbiota, bacterial translocation (BT), and host defense system.

Methods: The first part of this article describes the pathophysiological events associated with the gut microbiota. Results of RCTs for the perioperative use of probiotics in major digestive surgery are reviewed in the latter part.

Results: The development of the structural and functional barrier to protect against BT primarily results from the generally cooperative interactions between the host and resident microbiota. There is a large body of evidence indicating that probiotics, by enhancing beneficial interactions, reinforce the host defense system to limit BT. The perioperative use of probiotics in patients undergoing hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgery is a promising approach for the prevention of postoperative infectious complications, while the effectiveness in colorectal surgery remains controversial due to substantial heterogeneity among the RCTs with small sample populations.

Conclusions: Further studies, such as multi-center RCTs with a larger sample size, are necessary to confirm the clinical relevance of probiotic agents in major digestive surgery.

Keywords: Bacterial translocation; Dysbiosis; Infectious complication; Probiotics; Synbiotics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Translocation / physiology*
  • Digestive System Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Premedication*
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use*