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Probiotics are defined as nonpathogenic living microorganisms, including some commensal bacterial flora, which have beneficial effects on host health and disease prevention and/or treatment. Clinical trials have shown beneficial effects of probiotics on several human diseases, such as inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), which are among the most-studied diseases testing probiotics as a potential therapy. However, a significant question regarding clinical use of probiotics is the mechanism underlying the wide range of actions. Studies discussed in this review suggest 3 distinct cellular and molecular mechanisms for probiotic regulation in IBD therapy: 1) Probiotics block pathogenic bacterial effects by producing bactericidal substances and competing with pathogens and toxins for adherence to the intestinal epithelium; 2) Probiotics regulate immune responses by enhancing the innate immunity and modulating pathogen-induced inflammation via toll-like receptor-regulated signaling pathways; and 3) Probiotics regulate intestinal epithelial homeostasis by promoting intestinal epithelial cell survival, enhancing barrier function, and stimulating protective responses. Probiotics modulate host cell signaling pathways, including Akt, mitogen-activated protein kinases, and nuclear factor-[kappa]B to mediate these intestinal epithelial functions. It is hoped that developing a mechanistic understanding of probiotic action will provide the rationale to support the development of new hypothesis-driven studies to define the clinical efficacy in preventive, adjunctive, or alternative treatments for IBD.

(C) Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America, Inc.