Treg-inducing capacity of genomic DNA of Bifidobacterium longum subsp. infantis

Allergy Asthma Proc. 2020 Sep 1;41(5):372-385. doi: 10.2500/aap.2020.41.200064.


Background: Allergic and autoimmune diseases comprise a group of inflammatory disorders caused by aberrant immune responses in which CD25+ forkhead box P3-positive regulatory T cells (Treg) cells that normally suppress inflammatory events are often poorly functioning. This has stimulated an intensive investigative effort to find ways of increasing Tregs as a method of therapy for these conditions. Commensal microbiota known to have health benefits in humans include the lactic acid-producing, probiotic bacteria B. longum subsp. infantis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus. Mechanistically, several mechanisms have been proposed to explain how probiotics may favorably affect host immunity, including the induction of Tregs. Analysis of emerging data from several laboratories, including our own, suggest that DNA methylation may be an important determinant of immune reactivity responsible for Treg induction. Although methylated CpG moieties in normal mammalian DNA are both noninflammatory and lack immunogenicity, unmethylated CpGs, found largely in microbial DNA, are immunostimulatory and display proinflammatory properties. Objective: We hypothesize that microbiota with more DNA methylation may potentiate Treg induction to a greater degree than microbiota with a lower content of methylation. The purpose of the present study was to test this hypothesis by studying the methylation status of whole genomic DNA (gDNA) and the Treg-inducing capacity of purified gDNA in each of the probiotic bacteria B. longum subsp. infantis and L. rhamnosus, and a pathogenic Escherichia coli strain B. Results: We showed that gDNA from B. longum subsp. infantis is a potent Treg inducer that displays a dose-dependent response pattern at a dose threshold of 20 µg of gDNA. No similar Treg-inducing responses were observed with the gDNA from L. rhamnosus or E. coli. We identified a unique CpG methylated motif in the gDNA sequencing of B. longum subsp. infantis which was not found in L. rhamnosus or E. coli strain B. Conclusion: Although the literature indicates that both B. longum subsp. infantis and L. rhamnosus strains contribute to health, our data suggest that they do so by different mechanisms. Further, because of its small molecular size, low cost, ease of synthesis, and unique Treg-inducing feature, this methylated CpG oligodeoxynucleotide (ODN) from B. longum would offer many attractive features for an ideal novel therapeutic vaccine candidate for the treatment of immunologic diseases, such as the allergic and autoimmune disorders, in which Treg populations are diminished.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bifidobacterium longum subspecies infantis / immunology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • CpG Islands / immunology*
  • DNA Methylation
  • DNA, Bacterial / immunology*
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Genome
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-2 Receptor alpha Subunit / metabolism
  • Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus / immunology
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Microbiota / immunology*
  • Probiotics
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • FOXP3 protein, human
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • Interleukin-2 Receptor alpha Subunit