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The Role of Microbiota and Probiotics in Stress-Induced Gastrointestinal Damage

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Stress has a major impact on gut physiology and may affect the clinical course of gastro-intestinal diseases. In this review, we focus on the interaction between commensal gut microbiota and intestinal mucosa during stress and discuss the possibilities to counteract the deleterious effects of stress with probiotics.

Normally, commensal microbes and their hosts benefit from a symbiotic relationship. Stress does, however, reduce the number of Lactobacilli, while on the contrary, an increased growth, epithelial adherence and mucosal uptake of gram-negative pathogens, e.g. E. coli and Pseudomonas, are seen. Moreover, intestinal bacteria have the ability to sense a stressed host and up-regulate their virulence factors when opportunity knocks.

Probiotics are “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”, and mainly represented by Lactic Acid Bacteria. Probiotics can counteract stress-induced changes in intestinal barrier function, visceral sensitivity and gut motility. These effects are strain specific and mediated by direct bacterial-host cell interaction and/or via soluble factors. Mechanisms of action include competition with pathogens for essential nutrients, induction of epithelial heat-shock proteins, restoring of tight junction protein structure, up-regulation of mucin genes, secretion of defensins, and regulation of the NFκB signalling pathway. In addition, the reduction of intestinal pain perception was shown to be mediated via cannabinoid receptors.

Based on the studies reviewed here there is clearly a rationale for probiotic treatment in patients with stressrelated intestinal disorders. We are however far from being able to choose the precise combination of strains or bacterial components for each clinical setting.
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Keywords: Barrier function; epithelium; lactic acid bacteria; mucosal immunology; nutrition; psychological stress; surgery; virulence factors

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-06-01

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  • Current Molecular Medicine is an interdisciplinary journal focused on providing the readership with current and comprehensive reviews on fundamental molecular mechanisms of disease pathogenesis, the development of molecular-diagnosis and/or novel approaches to rational treatment. The reviews should be of significant interest to basic researchers and clinical investigators in molecular medicine. Periodically the journal will invite guest editors to devote an issue on a basic research area that shows promise to advance our understanding of the molecular mechanism(s) of a disease or has potential for clinical applications.
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