• Fructooligosaccharides;
  • Inulin;
  • Monocyte;
  • NF-κB;
  • Toll like receptor 4


Prebiotic oligosaccharides are currently used in a variety of clinical settings for their effects on intestinal microbiota. Here, we have examined the direct, microbiota independent, effects of prebiotics on monocytes and T lymphocytes in vitro.

Methods and results

Prebiotics generally evoked cytokine secretion (TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-10) by mouse splenocytes but inhibited LPS -induced IFN-γ and IL-17 release. Inulin was found to enhance LPS-induced IL-10 secretion. Splenocytes from TLR4−/− (where TLR is Toll-like receptor) mice showed a markedly depressed response. Conversely, in both basal and LPS-stimulated conditions, prebiotic inhibition of IFN-γ levels was preserved. These results suggested a predominant effect on monocytes via TLR4 ligation and possible inhibition of T cells. Hence, we studied the modulation of primary rat monocytes and T lymphocytes, focusing on fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin. In monocytes, FOS and inulin induced TNF-α, growth-regulated oncogene α, and IL-10, but not IL-1β release. The NF-κB inhibitor Bay 11–7082 fully prevented these effects. Pharmacological evidence also indicated a significant involvement of mitogen-activated protein kinase and phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase. There was little effect on T cells. FOS and inulin also generally increased TNF-α, IL-1β, and IL-10, but not IL-8, in human peripheral blood monocytes.


We conclude that prebiotics may act as TLR4 ligands or as indirect TLR4 modulators to upregulate cytokine secretion in monocytes.