Probiotic Bifidobacterium strains and galactooligosaccharides improve intestinal barrier function in obese adults but show no synergism when used together as synbiotics

Janina A. Krumbeck, Heather E. Rasmussen, Robert W. Hutkins, Jennifer Clarke, Krista Shawron, Ali Keshavarzian, Jens Walter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

151 Scopus citations


Background: One way to improve both the ecological performance and functionality of probiotic bacteria is by combining them with a prebiotic in the form of a synbiotic. However, the degree to which such synbiotic formulations improve probiotic strain functionality in humans has not been tested systematically. Our goal was to use a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-arm clinical trial in obese humans to compare the ecological and physiological impact of the prebiotic galactooligosaccharides (GOS) and the probiotic strains Bifidobacterium adolescentis IVS-1 (autochthonous and selected via in vivo selection) and Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12 (commercial probiotic allochthonous to the human gut) when used on their own or as synbiotic combinations. After 3 weeks of consumption, strain-specific quantitative real-time PCR and 16S rRNA gene sequencing were performed on fecal samples to assess changes in the microbiota. Intestinal permeability was determined by measuring sugar recovery in urine by GC after consumption of a sugar mixture. Serum-based endotoxin exposure was also assessed. Results: IVS-1 reached significantly higher cell numbers in fecal samples than BB-12 (P < 0.01) and, remarkably, its administration induced an increase in total bifidobacteria that was comparable to that of GOS. Although GOS showed a clear bifidogenic effect on the resident gut microbiota, both probiotic strains showed only a non-significant trend of higher fecal cell numbers when administered with GOS. Post-aspirin sucralose:lactulose ratios were reduced in groups IVS-1 (P = 0.050), IVS-1 + GOS (P = 0.022), and GOS (P = 0.010), while sucralose excretion was reduced with BB-12 (P = 0.002) and GOS (P = 0.020), indicating improvements in colonic permeability but no synergistic effects. No changes in markers of endotoxemia were observed. Conclusion: This study demonstrated that "autochthony" of the probiotic strain has a larger effect on ecological performance than the provision of a prebiotic substrate, likely due to competitive interactions with members of the resident microbiota. Although the synbiotic combinations tested in this study did not demonstrate functional synergism, our findings clearly showed that the pro- and prebiotic components by themselves improved markers of colonic permeability, providing a rational for their use in pathologies with an underlying leakiness of the gut.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number121
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 28 2018


  • Allochthonous
  • Autochthonous
  • Bifidobacteria
  • Bifidobacterium
  • Galactooligosaccharide
  • Gut barrier function
  • Obesity
  • Prebiotic
  • Probiotic
  • Synbiotic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


Dive into the research topics of 'Probiotic Bifidobacterium strains and galactooligosaccharides improve intestinal barrier function in obese adults but show no synergism when used together as synbiotics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this