Bifidobacterium spp. typical of the human intestinal microbiota are believed to influence the balance of immune responses in the intestinal mucosa. The aim of the present study was to investigate the effect of different bifidobacterial species and their mixtures in in vitro experiments with peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and Caco-2 cells. Bifidobacterium adolescentis, B. angulatum, B. breve, B. catenulatum, B. infantis, B. longum and two combinations of these bifidobacteria simulating the species composition found in faecal samples from breast-fed (BF) and formula-fed (FF) infants were used. The levels of several cytokines were measured by direct stimulation of PBMC and by stimulation of a Caco-2/PBMC co-culture with bifidobacteria. B. catenulatum and B. breve were the strongest enhancers of interferon-γ (IFN-γ) production by direct stimulation of PBMC. B. longum was the highest inducer of IL-10 and the lowest TNF-α stimulus. In the Caco-2/PBMC system, B. breve was the highest inducer of IL-8 production by Caco-2 cells, significantly different from B. infantis, B. adolescentis and the FF mixture (P < 0·05). IFN-γ produced by PBMC stimulated with the BF mixture (containing 22 % B. breve, compared with 7 % in the FF mixture) was significantly higher compared with B. adolescentis, B. infantis and B. longum. B. adolescentis also inhibited IFN-γ production compared with the FF mixture and B. longum. The proportion of different Bifidobacterium strains seems to be an important determinant of the cytokine balance in the simulated intestinal environment studied. B. breve and the combination of the Bifidobacterium species typically found in the microbiota of BF infants have shown the most significant effects.