Microbial metabolites may influence the metabolic integrity of intestinal epithelial cells and induce mucosal immune responses. Therefore, we investigated the effects of the microbial metabolites butyrate, iso-valerate, and ammonium on Caco-2 cells and macrophages. Barrier functioning was determined by measuring transepithelial electrical resistance and basolateral recoveries of metabolites. The barrier function of Caco-2 cells remained intact after exposures. Basolateral recoveries ranged from 6.2% to 15.2%. Tumour necrosis factor-α and interleukin-10 were measured to determine immune reactions. The Caco-2 cells did not secrete both cytokines. Physiological concentrations of butyrate and iso-valerate stimulated the secretion of tumour necrosis factor-α and suppressed the secretion of interleukin-10 by macrophages that are not protected by an epithelial barrier. In contrast, ammonium concentrations as high as those produced by microbiotas of IBD patients suppressed the release of both cytokines when the barrier function is impaired. © 2005 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.