• Cytokines;
  • Intestinal epithelial cells;
  • NF-κB;
  • Prebiotic;
  • Toll-like receptor 4


Prebiotic effects of non absorbable glucids depend mainly on digestion by the colonic microbiota. Our aim was to assess nonprebiotic, direct effects of 4 prebiotics, namely fructooligosaccharides, inulin, galactooligosaccharides, and goat's milk oligosaccharides on intestinal epithelial cells.

Methods and results

Prebiotics were tested in intestinal epithelial cell 18 (IEC18), HT29, and Caco-2 cells. Cytokine secretion was measured by ELISA and modulated with pharmacological probes and gene silencing. Prebiotics induced the production of growth-related oncogene, (GROα), monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 (MCP-1), and macrophage inflammatory protein 2 (MIP2) in IEC18 cells, with an efficacy that was 50–80% that of LPS. Prebiotics did not change RANTES expression, which was robustly induced by LPS in IEC18 cells. Cytokine secretion was suppressed by Bay11-7082, an inhibitor of IκB-α phosphorylation. The response was markedly decreased by Myd88 or TLR4 gene knockdown. Prebiotics also elicited cytokine production in HT29 but not in Caco-2 cells, consistent with reduced and vestigial expression of TLR4 in these cell lines, respectively. Prebiotic-induced MCP-1 secretion was reduced also in colonic explants from TLR4 KO mice compared with the controls.


We conclude that prebiotics are TLR4 ligands in intestinal epithelial cells and that this may be a relevant mechanism for their in vivo effects.