Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), commonly referred to as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are chronic aggressive disorders which share many similarities concerning pathomechanism and clinical course, but have very distinct features. Both entities are mainly located in areas with high bacterial concentrations, such as the terminal ileum and cecum in Crohn’s disease and the rectum in ulcerative colitis. In recent years, overwhelming evidence accumulated, supporting the hypothesis that IBD are characterized by a genetically determined, overly aggressive immune response towards ubiquitous luminal antigens, especially commensal bacteria and their products. Trials in both human IBD and experimental colitis have demonstrated that broad-spectrum antibiotics may influence the course of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and antibiotics with narrow activity against the anaerobic fraction of the flora can prevent relapse in Crohn’s disease after surgically induced remission. Since relevant antibiotic strategies can be associated with some side effects, the ongoing research recently focused on alternative methods to modify the intestinal flora in patients with IBD. Clinical observations including few controlled trials, basic research, and animal studies have suggested a potential role for probiotic bacteria within the treatment regimens for IBD. However, the mode of action of these organisms is still largely unclear and in vitro studies are inconclusive. This review summarizes recent in vitro and in vivo data regarding the role of the intestinal microflora in the pathogenesis of chronic intestinal inflammation and possible therapeutic mechanisms of probiotic bacteria relevant to IBD. Furthermore, we will review clinical trials examining the efficacy of antibiotic and probiotic treatment strategies in IBD.

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