The goal of the current study was to clarify whether commercially available probiotics induce greater trans-epithelial activation of human leukocytes than do commensal, food-derived and pathogenic bacteria and to identify the compounds responsible for this activation. Eleven different bacterial strains, and some of their pathogen-associated molecular patterns, were incubated apically on a confluent layer of intestinal epithelial cells (Caco-2), which were basolaterally co-cultured with human mononuclear leukocytes. Only Gram-negative bacteria having Enterobacteriaceae-type endotoxin (commensal Escherichia coli K12, probiotic E. coli Nissle, EPEC) induced basolateral production of TNF-alpha, IFN-gamma, IL 6, 8, and 10. Gram-positive probiotics (Lactobacillus spp. and Bifidobacterium spp.) had virtually no effect. In addition, commensals (Enterococcus faecalis, Bacteroides vulgatus) and food fermenters (Lactobacillus spp.) did not stimulate leukocytes transepithelially. Endotoxin from E. coli and Salmonella enterica Typhimurium induced comparable transepithelial stimulation of leukocytes, but not endotoxin from B. vulgatus or lipoteichoic acid from E. faecalis. Endotoxin-binding agents (polymyxin, colistin) completely abrogated transepithelial activation of leukocytes. Enterobacteriaceae-type endotoxin is a crucial factor in transepithelial stimulation of leukocytes, regardless of whether it is produced by probiotics or other bacteria. Hence, transepithelial stimulation ofleukocytes' innate immune response seems to not be linked to the health-promoting effects ofprobiotics.