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Weaning is associated with a major shift in the microbial community of the intestine, and this instability may make it more acquiescent than the adult microbiota to long-term changes. Modulation achieved through dietary interventions may have potentially beneficial effects on the developing immune system, which is driven primarily by the microbiota. The specific aim of the present study was to determine whether immune development could be modified by dietary supplementation with the human probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis NCC2818 in a tractable model of weaning in infants. Piglets were reared by their mothers before being weaned onto a solid diet supplemented with B. lactis NCC2818, while sibling controls did not receive supplementation. Probiotic supplementation resulted in a reduction in IgA (P<0·0005) and IgM (P<0·009) production by mucosal tissues but had no effect on IgG production (P>0·05). Probiotic-supplemented pigs had more mast cells than unsupplemented littermates (P<0·0001), although numbers in both groups were low. In addition, the supplemented piglets made stronger serum IgG responses to fed and injected antigens (P<0·05). The present findings are consistent with B. lactis NCC2818 reducing intestinal permeability induced by weaning, and suggest that the piglet is a valuable intermediate between rodent models and human infants. The results also strongly suggest that measures of the effect of probiotic supplementation on the immune system need to be interpreted carefully as proxy measures of health benefit. However, they are useful in developing an understanding of the mechanism of action of probiotic strains, an important factor in predicting favourable health outcomes of nutritional intervention.

Research Insights

SupplementHealth OutcomeEffect TypeEffect Size
Bifidobacterium lactis BL818Increased Mast Cells in Mucosal TissuesNeutral
Bifidobacterium lactis BL818Increased Systemic Antibody ProductionBeneficial
Bifidobacterium lactis BL818Reduced Local Immunoglobulin ProductionNeutral

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