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Can probiotics modulate human disease by impacting intestinal barrier function?

  • Peter A. Bron (a1), Michiel Kleerebezem (a2), Robert-Jan Brummer (a3), Patrice D. Cani (a4), Annick Mercenier (a5), Thomas T. MacDonald (a6), Clara L. Garcia-Ródenas (a5) and Jerry M. Wells (a2)...


Intestinal barrier integrity is a prerequisite for homeostasis of mucosal function, which is balanced to maximise absorptive capacity, while maintaining efficient defensive reactions against chemical and microbial challenges. Evidence is mounting that disruption of epithelial barrier integrity is one of the major aetiological factors associated with several gastrointestinal diseases, including infection by pathogens, obesity and diabetes, necrotising enterocolitis, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. The notion that specific probiotic bacterial strains can affect barrier integrity fuelled research in which in vitro cell lines, animal models and clinical trials are used to assess whether probiotics can revert the diseased state back to homeostasis and health. This review catalogues and categorises the lines of evidence available in literature for the role of probiotics in epithelial integrity and, consequently, their beneficial effect for the reduction of gastrointestinal disease symptoms.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.

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* Corresponding author: P. A. Bron, fax +32 2 762 00 44, email


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These authors contributed equally to this work.



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