INTRODUCTION: Probiotic bacteria have to survive passage through the gastrointestinal tract. In this placebo-controlled double-blind study, the effect of Lactobacillus plantarum 299v on the faecal flora was studied with and without gastric acid inhibition. METHODS: Thirty-two healthy volunteers were given pantoprazole (40 mg/day) or placebo for 3 weeks from week 2 until week 4. In addition, from week 3 until week 4, L. plantarum 299v in an oatmeal-fermented drink (10(9) CFU/ml) was given twice daily to both groups. From each healthy volunteer, faecal samples were collected at the end of week 1, 2, 4 and 8 (4 weeks after cessation of L. plantarum 299v and pantoprazole/placebo). Several aerobically and anaerobically growing bacteria were counted and short chain fatty acid concentrations were determined. RESULTS: In both the pantoprazole and the placebo group, median lactobacilli counts increased significantly in week 4 compared to week 1 (from log 4.5 to 8.0 CFU/g faeces in pantoprazole and from log 4.2 to 7.7 CFU/g faeces in placebo group) and decreased significantly in week 8 (to log 4.5 CFU/g faeces in pantoprazole and log 4.3 CFU/g faeces in placebo group). These lactobacilli were identified as L. plantarum 299v. No significant differences were observed in all other bacterial counts and short chain fatty acid concentrations. CONCLUSIONS: The comparable increase of faecal lactobacilli counts in both the pantoprazole and the placebo-treated group demonstrates that L. plantarum 299v survives passage through the gastrointestinal tract irrespective of gastric acidity. The increment of the intra-gastric pH in combination with L. plantarum 299v did not modulate bacterial composition and/or the production of short chain fatty acids.