Background: Lactobacillus casei is a nonpathogenic gram-positive bacterium widely used in dairy products and has been shown to enhance the cellular immunity of the host.
Methods: To examine the inhibitory effect of L. casei on IgE production, splenocytes obtained from ovalbumin (OVA)-primed BALB/c mice were restimulated in vitro with the same antigen in the presence of heat-killed L. casei. The effect of this bacterium on T helper (Th) phenotype development was also examined with naive T cells from OVA-specific T cell receptor-transgenic mice.
Results: L. casei induced IFN-gamma, but inhibited IL-4 and IL-5 secretion, and markedly suppressed total and antigen-specific IgE secretion by OVA-stimulated splenocytes. The inhibitory effect of L. casei on IgE, IL-4, and IL-5 production was partially abrogated by addition of neutralizing antibody to IFN-gamma. Augmented IL-12 production was also observed in the cell cultures containing L. casei, and anti-IL-12 monoclonal antibody completely restored the IgE, IL-4, and IL-5 production to the control levels. The IL-12 augmentation by L. casei was macrophage-dependent. The Th cell development assay showed the ability of L. casei to induce Th1 development preferentially. This effect was also completely blocked by anti-IL-12 antibody.
Conclusions: This is the first demonstration that a nonpathogenic microorganism, L. casei, can inhibit antigen-induced IgE production through induction of IL-12 secretion by macrophages. The findings suggest a potential use of this organism in preventing IgE-mediated allergy.