Commensal gut bacteria are generally considered to be friendly bacteria, since they can help their host in numerous ways. These can include breaking down undigested food to produce metabolites (by-products), which can be a fuel source for gut cells and can help to regulate the immune system, amongst many other beneficial functions that support the host's health. Probiotic bacteria are bacteria that offer a benefit to their host. They are used in dietary supplements and many are of the genus Lactobacilli.

We tested whether gut cells respond differently to a commensal bacterium (Lactobacillus gasseri) and two pathogenic bacteria (Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus), and also whether the responses could be altered with PUFAs. We used a cell co-culture model containing a layer of colorectal cells, with immune cells in a porous compartment beneath. This model represents the outer cell lining of our lower gut and the immune cells that sit underneath in an area called the lamina propria.

We showed that commensal L. gasseri increased the secretion of the immune signaling protein TGF-β1 (Transforming Growth Factor β1), along with increased expression of its encoding gene signal. TGF-β1 has an important role in promoting tolerance towards commensal bacteria and has a role in dampening immune responses following inflammation. The pathogenic bacteria had no effect on the amount of TGF-β1. Our results indicate that L. gasseri could have a way of promoting its own survival in the gut by inducing tolerance towards itself, an effect which pathogenic bacteria do not have.

When eicosapentaenoic acid was added to the cell culture model along with L. gasseri, there was a greater increase in TGF-β1 gene expression. This early research shows the potential of combining fish oil with probiotic bacteria to promote probiotic survival in the gut and/or dampening inflammatory responses.