The Role of Genetically Engineered Probiotics for Treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Systematic Review.

Nutrients. 2023;15(7)
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Plain language summary

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), largely classified as Crohn’s disease (CD) or ulcerative colitis (UC), is a chronic intestinal inflammatory disorder mediated by genetic, immune, microbial, and environmental factors. The aim of this study was to summarise the efficacy of different genetically modified probiotics compared to wild-type probiotics in the treatment of IBD in animal models and patients and to investigate the specific effects and main mechanisms involved. This study was a systematic review of forty-five preclinical studies and one clinical study. Results showed a protective effect of genetically modified organisms (gm) probiotics in colitis. Several protective mechanisms have been identified: reduction of the pro- to anti-inflammatory cytokine ratio in colonic tissue and plasma, modulation of the activity of oxidative stress in the colon, improvement of intestinal barrier integrity, modulation of the diversity and composition of gut microbiota, and production of favourable metabolites, including short-chain fatty acids, by beneficial bacteria. Authors concluded that gm probiotics are more effective and safer than wild-type probiotics, to facilitate clinical translation.

Expert Review

Conflicts of interest: None

Take Home Message:
Conclusions of this review were largely based on mouse models and although treatment using probiotics is generally considered safe in humans, with only minor side-effects (flatulence), practitioners need to be aware that in an IBD population the use of GM formulations might not be completely without risk.

Evidence Category:
  • A: Meta-analyses, position-stands, randomized-controlled trials (RCTs)
  • X B: Systematic reviews including RCTs of limited number
  • C: Non-randomized trials, observational studies, narrative reviews
  • D: Case-reports, evidence-based clinical findings
  • E: Opinion piece, other

Summary Review:

This paper summarises the efficacy of specific genetically modified (GM) probiotic formulations for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) when compared to wild type probiotics. The aim was to ascertain what specific effects and mechanisms such probiotics have on IBD symptomatology.


  • A total of 46 published articles were included; 45 mouse experimental models (induced acute or chronic colitis) (n=15-130) and 1 human IBD population clinical trial (n=10)
  • The effect of GM probiotics were compared to placebo and wild-type probiotics in trials including preclinical studies, randomised controlled trials and cohort studies
  • Animals received probiotics via gastric gavage (105 - 4 x 1012 CFU) for 3-6 weeks
  • The human placebo-uncontrolled trial lasted 7 days and patients received 10 GM capsules of L.lactis (1 x 1010 CFU) twice daily.


  • GM probiotics that secrete immunoregulatory cytokines such as IL-10 appear to reduce intestinal damage
  • The human trial using GM L.lactis resulted in 5 patients who went into complete clinical remission (CDAI, <150) with 3 patients exhibiting a clinical response (decrease in CDAI, >70). with only minor adverse events (flatulence)
  • However, human cytokines that promote intestinal barrier function and epithelial restitution were not enhanced with oral administration of probiotics
  • Two studies concluded that GM L.lactis and S.boulardii, that secrete atrial natriuretic peptide, might be the most effective options in supporting colitis
  • GM L.casei resulted in faster recovery from weight loss in acute colitis models
  • Superoxide dismutase (SOD) producing GM L.fermentum increased SOD activity by almost eightfold compared to the wild type
  • GM Lact. fermentum furthermore showed a higher survival rate and lower disease activity index (P <0·05) in colitis models
  • GM L.lactis improved gut microbial composition and GM S.cerevisiae improved microbial diversity whilst reducing the Firmicutes to Bacteroides ratio
  • GM E.coli significantly reduced weight loss, colon shortening plus lower disease activity and histological changes (P < 0.05).


Despite the heterogeneity of the trials, GM probiotics appear to play a notable part in ameliorating IBD symptomatology and disease severity when compared to wild-type probiotics. Human efficacy and potential adverse effects require more in-depth trials to ascertain safety and optimal dosages.

Clinical practice applications:
  • Probiotics species used in the trials included S.thermophilus, E.coli, L.lactis, B.ovatus, S.boulardii, L.fermentum, B.longhum, L.casei, L.plantarum, and S.cerevisiae. Wild-types of some of these are already available to use in clinical practice
  • Note that oral administration in the human trial showed no significant health outcome, therefore efficacy and safety need to be ascertained on an individual patient level
  • Colonisation of beneficial bacteria in the gut of IBD patients might be difficult and any form of supplementation therefore needs to be closely monitored.

Considerations for future research:
  • More evidence is needed to demonstrate that GM probiotic formulations result in significantly improved outcomes when compared to wild-types
  • Future randomised placebo-controlled trials need to include larger cohorts to determine supplement efficacy
  • Longer periods of intervention are needed to confirm efficacy, safety, and tolerance for both Crohn’s Disease and Colitis
  • Optimal GM probiotic formulation, doses, and means of application need to be identified.


BACKGROUND Many preclinical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of genetically modified probiotics (gm probiotics) in animal models of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). OBJECTIVE This systematic review was performed to investigate the role of gm probiotics in treating IBD and to clarify the involved mechanisms. METHODS PubMed, Web of Science, Cochrane Library, and Medline were searched from their inception to 18 September 2022 to identify preclinical and clinical studies exploring the efficacy of gm probiotics in IBD animal models or IBD patients. Two independent researchers extracted data from the included studies, and the data were pooled by the type of study; that is, preclinical or clinical. RESULTS Forty-five preclinical studies were included. In these studies, sodium dextran sulfate and trinitrobenzene sulfonic acid were used to induce colitis. Eleven probiotic species have been genetically modified to produce therapeutic substances, including IL-10, antimicrobial peptides, antioxidant enzymes, and short-chain fatty acids, with potential therapeutic properties against colitis. The results showed generally positive effects of gm probiotics in reducing disease activity and ameliorating intestinal damage in IBD models; however, the efficacy of gm probiotics compared to that of wild-type probiotics in many studies was unclear. The main mechanisms identified include modulation of the diversity and composition of the gut microbiota, production of regulatory metabolites by beneficial bacteria, reduction of the pro- to anti-inflammatory cytokine ratio in colonic tissue and plasma, modulation of oxidative stress activity in the colon, and improvement of intestinal barrier integrity. Moreover, only one clinical trial with 10 patients with Crohn's disease was included, which showed that L. lactis producing IL-10 was safe, and a decrease in disease activity was observed in these patients. CONCLUSIONS Gm probiotics have a certain efficacy in colitis models through several mechanisms. However, given the scarcity of clinical trials, it is important for researchers to pay more attention to gm probiotics that are more effective and safer than wild-type probiotics to facilitate further clinical translation.

Lifestyle medicine

Patient Centred Factors : Mediators/Inflammatory bowel diseases
Environmental Inputs : Diet ; Nutrients ; Microorganisms
Personal Lifestyle Factors : Nutrition ; Environment
Functional Laboratory Testing : Not applicable
Bioactive Substances : Probiotics

Methodological quality

Jadad score : Not applicable
Allocation concealment : Not applicable
Publication Type : Systematic Review ; Journal Article ; Review