Adhesion to the intestinal mucosa is a desirable property for probiotic microorganisms and has been related to many of their health benefits. In the present study, 24 dairy Propionibacterium strains were assessed with regard to their hydrophobic characteristics and their autoaggregation and hemagglutination abilities, since these traits have been shown to be indicative of adherence in other microorganisms. Six strains were further tested for their capacity to adhere to ileal epithelial cells in vitro and in vivo. The results of the study showed that propionibacteria were highly hydrophilic, and hemagglutination and autoaggregation were properties not commonly found among these microorganisms. No relationship was found between surface characteristics and adhesion ability, since hemagglutinating, autoaggregating, and nonautoaggregating bacteria were able to adhere to intestinal cells both in vitro and in vivo. Microscopic examination revealed that autoaggregating cells adhered in clusters, with adhesion being mediated by only a few bacteria, whereas the hemagglutinating and nonautoaggregating strains adhered individually or in small groups making contact with each epithelial cell with the entire bacterial surface. The in vitro assessment of adhesion was a good indication of the in vivo association of propionibacteria with the intestinal epithelium. Therefore, the in vitro method presented here should be valuable in screening routinely adhesive properties of propionibacteria for probiotic purposes. The adhesion ability of dairy propionibacteria would prolong their maintenance in the gut and increase the duration of their provision of beneficial effects in the host, supporting the potential of Propionibacterium in the development of new probiotic products.

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