• intestinal epithelial cells;
  • Toll-like receptor 2;
  • probiotic bacteria;
  • nuclear factor (NF)-κB;
  • gnotobiology


Bifidobacteria comprise a dominant microbial population group in the human intestinal tract with purported beneficial health effects on the host. In this study, we characterized the molecular mechanisms for the initial interaction of probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis strain BB12 with native and intestinal epithelial cell (IEC) lines. We showed that B. lactis-monoassociated Fisher F344 rats transiently induce phosphorylation/activation of the NF-κB transcriptionally active subunit RelA and the mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) p38 in native IEC at day 5 after initial bacterial colonization. In addition, Interleukin 6 (IL-6) gene expression was significantly increased at day 5, demonstrating the physiological relevance of transient transcription factor activation in IEC. In contrast, Bacteroides vulgatus-monoassociated Fisher rats revealed RelA but not p38 MAPK phosphorylation and failed to trigger significant IL-6 gene expression in native IEC. Moreover, we demonstrated that B. lactis triggers NF-κB RelA and p38 MAPK phosphorylation in IEC lines. Adenoviral delivery of mutant IKK-β (Ad5dnIKKβ) and inhibition of the p38 MAPK pathway through the pharmacological inhibitor SB203580 significantly blocked B. lactis-induced IL-6 gene expression in IEC, suggesting that B. lactis triggers NF-κB and MAPK signaling to induce gene expression in the intestinal epithelium. Regarding the mechanisms of bacteria epithelial cell cross-talk, B. lactis-induced IL-6 gene expression was completely inhibited in TLR2 deficient mouse embryogenic fibroblasts (MEF TLR2−/−) as well as TLR2ΔTIR transfected Mode-K cells. In conclusion, we demonstrated that probiotic bacteria transiently trigger innate signal transduction and pro-inflammatory gene expression in the intestinal epithelium at early stages of bacterial colonization.