Anti-Pathogenic Functions of Non-Digestible Oligosaccharides In Vitro

Nutrients. 2020 Jun 16;12(6):1789. doi: 10.3390/nu12061789.


Non-digestible oligosaccharides (NDOs), complex carbohydrates that resist hydrolysis by salivary and intestinal digestive enzymes, fulfill a diversity of important biological roles. A lot of NDOs are known for their prebiotic properties by stimulating beneficial bacteria in the intestinal microbiota. Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) represent the first prebiotics that humans encounter in life. Inspired by these HMO structures, chemically-produced NDO structures (e.g., galacto-oligosaccharides and chito-oligosaccharides) have been recognized as valuable food additives and exert promising health effects. Besides their apparent ability to stimulate beneficial microbial species, oligosaccharides have shown to be important inhibitors of the development of pathogenic infections. Depending on the type and structural characteristics, oligosaccharides can exert a number of anti-pathogenic effects. The most described effect is their ability to act as a decoy receptor, thereby inhibiting adhesion of pathogens. Other ways of pathogenic inhibition, such as interference with pathogenic cell membrane and biofilm integrity and DNA transcription, are less investigated, but could be equally impactful. In this review, a comprehensive overview of In vitro anti-pathogenic properties of different NDOs and associated pathways are discussed. A framework is created categorizing all anti-pathogenic effects and providing insight into structural necessities for an oligosaccharide to exert one of these effects.

Keywords: HMOs; adhesion; bacteria; bacterial growth; biofilm; chemical structure; in vitro; non-digestible oligosaccharides; surface charge.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacterial Adhesion / drug effects
  • Biofilms / drug effects
  • Chitosan
  • Digestion
  • Galactose
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology
  • Humans
  • Milk, Human / chemistry
  • Oligosaccharides / chemistry
  • Oligosaccharides / pharmacology*
  • Oligosaccharides / physiology
  • Prebiotics / administration & dosage


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Prebiotics
  • fructooligosaccharide
  • Chitosan
  • Galactose