Epithelial cells of the urinary tract recognize pathogenic bacteria through pattern recognition receptors on their surface, such as toll-like receptors (TLRs), and mount an immune response through the activation of the NF-kappaB pathway. Some uropathogenic bacteria can subvert these cellular responses, creating problems with how the host eliminates pathogens. Lactobacillus is a genus of lactic acid bacteria that are part of the microbiota and consist of many probiotic strains, some specifically for urogenital infections. Immunomodulation has emerged as an important mode of action of probiotic and commensal lactobacilli and given the importance of epithelial cells, we evaluated the effect of the urogenital probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 on epithelial immune activation.
Immune activation through the NF-kappaB pathway was initiated by stimulation of T24 urothelial cells with heat-killed Escherichia coli and this was further potentiated when cells were co-cultured with live L. rhamnosus GR-1. Heat-killed lactobacilli were poor activators of NF-kappaB. Concomitant stimulation of bladder cells with E. coli and L. rhamnosus GR-1 increased the levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF, whereas IL-6 and CXCL8 levels were reduced. Another probiotic, L. rhamnosus GG, was also able to potentiate NF-kappaB in these cells although at a significantly reduced level compared to the GR-1 strain. The transcript numbers and protein levels of the lipopolysaccharide receptor TLR4 were significantly increased after co-stimulation with E. coli and lactobacilli compared to controls. Furthermore, inhibition of TLR4 activation by polymixin B completely blocked the lactobacilli potentiation of NF-kappaB.
The immunological outcome of E. coli challenge of bladder cells was influenced by probiotic L. rhamnosus GR-1, by enhancing the activation of NF-kappaB and TNF release. Thus the urogenital probiotic L. rhamnosus GR-1 modulated the activation of the NF-kappaB through increased levels of TLR4 on the bladder cells and altered subsequent release of cytokines from urothelial cells. By influencing immunological factors such as TLR4, important in the process of fighting pathogens, lactobacilli could facilitate pathogen recognition and infection clearance.