The quest for probiotic effector molecules - Unraveling strain specificity at the molecular level

I.C. Lee, S. Tomita, M. Kleerebezem, P.A. Bron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

68 Citations (Scopus)


Pharmaceutical agents are widely applied for the treatment of gastrointestinal (and systemic) disorders and their role as modulators of host cell responses is relatively well characterized. By contrast, we are only beginning to understand the molecular mechanisms by which health-promoting, probiotic bacteria act as host cell modulators. The last decade has seen a rapid development of the genomics field for the widely applied probiotic genus Lactobacillus, and nowadays dozens of full genome sequences are available, as well as sophisticated post genomic and genetic engineering tools. This development has enabled comparative (functional) genomics approaches to identify the bacterial effector molecules involved in molecular communication with the host system that may underlie the probiotic effects observed. These efforts can also be complemented with dedicated mutagenesis approaches to eliminate or alter these effector molecules, followed by assessment of the host interaction consequences thereof, allowing the elucidation of the molecular mechanisms involved in probiotic health effects. Many of these approaches have pinpointed that the Lactobacillus cell envelope contains several effector molecules that are pivotal in the direct signaling capacity of these bacteria that underlies their immunomodulatory effects, including lipoteichoic acid, peptidoglycan, and (glyco)proteins. Moreover, the cell envelope contains several compounds such as wall teichoic acid and capsular polysaccharides that may not be involved in direct signaling to the host cell, but still affect signaling through shielding of other bacterial effector molecules. Initial structural studies revealed subtle strain- and species-specific biochemical differences in the canonical cell envelope compounds that are involved in these host interactions. These biochemical variations include the degree and positioning of d-alanyl and glycosyl substitution in lipoteichoic acids, and acetylation of peptidoglycan. Furthermore, specific peptides derived from peptidoglycan and envelope associated (glyco)proteins were recently identified as potent immunomodulators. The latter findings are exciting in the light of the possibility of more pharmacological application of these bioactive probiotic molecules, and especially cost-effective production and targeted delivery of bioactive peptides seems to emerge as a feasible strategy to harness this knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-74
JournalPharmacological Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • wall teichoic-acid
  • lactobacillus-rhamnosus gg
  • alanyl-lipoteichoic acid
  • complete genome sequence
  • gram-positive bacteria
  • antibiotic-associated diarrhea
  • bacillus-subtilis w23
  • cell-wall
  • staphylococcus-aureus
  • dendritic-cell


Dive into the research topics of 'The quest for probiotic effector molecules - Unraveling strain specificity at the molecular level'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this