OBJECTIVE: The human intestine harbors a complex microbial ecosystem, and the mucosa is the interface between the immune system and the luminal environment. The aim of this study was to elucidate whether host-bacteria interactions influence mucosal cytokine production. METHODS: Macroscopically normal colonic specimens were obtained at surgery from eight patients with neoplasm, and inflamed ileal specimens were obtained from two patients with Crohn's disease. Mucosal explants were cultured for 24 h with either nonpathogenic Escherichia coli ECOR-26, Lactobacillus casei DN-114 001, L. casei DN-114 056, L. casei ATCC-334, or Lactobacillus bulgaricus LB-10. Each study included blank wells with no bacteria. Tissue and bacteria viability were confirmed by LDH release and culture. Concentration of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)α, transforming growth factor β1, interleukin (IL)-8, and IL-10 was measured in supernatants. In parallel experiments, neutralizing anti-TNFα antibody was added to the culture. RESULTS: Co-culture of mucosa with bacteria did not modify LDH release. Co-culture with L. casei strains significantly reduced TNFα release, whereas E. coli increased it. These effects were observed both in normal and inflamed mucosa. In combination studies, L. casei DN-114 001 prevented TNFα stimulation by E. coli. L. casei DN-114 001 also reduced IL-8 release via a TNFα-independent pathway. L. casei DN-114 056 or E. coli increased IL-10 release in the presence of neutralizing anti-TNFα. CONCLUSIONS: Nonpathogenic bacteria interact with human intestinal mucosa and can induce changes in cytokine production that are strain specific. © 2003 by Am. Coll. of Gastroenterology.