Background Probiotics are widely studied both in the treatment and prevention of allergic diseases, but their mode of action is poorly known.
Objective Our aim was to examine the effect of probiotic bacteria on in vivo cytokine, antibody, and inflammatory responses in allergy-prone infants.
Methods In a randomized double-blind study, probiotic bacteria or placebo were given for 1 month before delivery to mothers and for 6 months to infants with a family history of allergy. Plasma samples were analysed for C-reactive protein (CRP), total IgA and IgE, food-specific IgA, IgG, and IgE, IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-10, TNF-α, and IFN-γ. We analysed the associations of immunological and inflammatory parameters at age 6 months with probiotic treatment and allergic phenotype at 2 years.
Results Infants receiving probiotic bacteria had higher plasma levels of CRP (P=0.008), total IgA (P=0.016), total IgE (P=0.047), and IL-10 (P=0.002) than infants in the placebo group. Increased plasma CRP level at age 6 months was associated with a decreased risk of eczema [odds ratio (OR) 0.41 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0.17–0.99], P=0.046], and with a decreased risk of allergic disease [OR 0.38 (95% CI 0.16–0.87), P=0.023] at age 2 years, when adjusted with probiotic use.
Conclusion The association of CRP with a decreased risk of eczema at 2 years of age in allergy-prone children supports the view that chronic, low-grade inflammation protects from eczema. Probiotic-induced low-grade inflammation was characterized by elevation of IgE, IgA, and IL-10, the changes typically observed in helminth infection-associated induction of regulatory mechanisms. The findings emphasize the role of chronic microbial exposure as an immune modulator protecting from allergy.