The human body is exposed to many xenobiotic, potentially harmful compounds. The intestinal immune system is crucial in protecting the human body from these substances. Moreover, many microorganisms, residing in the gastrointestinal tract, play an important role in modulating immune responses. Pre- and probiotics may have beneficial effects on the microbial composition and activity within the human gut, subsequently affecting the immune system. Prebiotics can exert their effects via different mechanisms, like selectively stimulating the growth of bacteria by providing substrates or via direct immune stimulation. Probiotics may have beneficial health effects via competition with pathogens for substrates and binding intestinal sites, bioconversions of for example sugars into fermentation products with inhibitory properties, production of growth substrates like vitamins for the host, direct antagonism of pathogens via antimicrobial peptide production, reduction of inflammation and stimulation of immune cells. This review focuses on the different mechanisms via which the pre- and probiotics exert their beneficial effects on the host, addressing their immunomodulatory properties in particular.
Keywords: beneficial microbes; gastrointestinal tract; immunology; microbial substrates; microbiota.