Lactic acid bacteria have traditionally been thought to have immunomodulating effects. To verify this property, Lactobacillus plantarum was orally administered to mice (5 × 107 colony forming units (c.f.u.)), prior to infection with Listeria monocytogenes in order to evaluate the host resistance against an infectious micro-organism and to better define the influence of L. plantarum on such responses. Balb/c mice were treated daily with L. plantarum or received PBS (sham-treated mice as controls) for 4 weeks. Subsequently, mice were intravenously infected with a clinical isolate of L. monocytogenes. Our study revealed that the administration of L. plantarum did not significantly increase the survival (P = 0·13) of mice (fifteen in each group) after L. monocytogenes infection (106 c.f.u./ml), whereas a sub-lethal dose of L. monocytogenes (105 c.f.u./ml) was eliminated from liver and spleen 5 d after the challenge in both L. plantarum- and sham-treated mice (n 5). Nevertheless, the levels of IL-1β and IL-6 from sera of orally administered L. plantarum were drastically reduced at 0, 4 (P < 0·01) and 6 d after L. monocytogenes infection, whereas TNF-α production was unaltered. In conclusion, administration of L. plantarum reduced pro-inflammatory IL production after challenge with L. monocytogenes, although it did not significantly impact the survival of mice. We speculate that L. plantarum could exert anti-inflammatory effects, which may represent an important model to reduce inflammatory disorders. Therefore, further studies in human subjects should determine the role of L. plantarum as an immunomodulatory micro-organism and its relationship in the host protection to pathogens.