Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria play a primary role in modulation of gut immunity. By considering that microbiota composition depends on various factors, including diet, we asked whether functional differences could characterize faecal populations of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria isolated from individuals with different dietary habits. 155 healthy volunteers who followed omnivorous, ovo-lacto-vegetarian or vegan diets were recruited at four Italian centres (Turin, Parma, Bologna and Bari). Faecal samples were collected; lactobacilli and bifidobacteria were isolated on selective media and their immunomodulatory activity was tested in mouse dendritic cells (DCs). Pre-incubation with lactobacilli increased LPS-induced expression of the maturation markers CD80 and CD86, whereas pre-incubation with bifidobacteria decreased such expression. Analysis of the cytokine profile indicated that strains of both genera induced down-regulation of IL-12 and up-regulation of IL-10, whereas expression of TNF-α was not modulated. Notably, analysis of anti-inflammatory potential (IL-10/IL-12 ratio) showed that lactobacilli evoked a greater anti-inflammatory effect than did bifidobacteria in the omnivorous group (P < 0.05). We also found significantly reduced anti-inflammatory potential in the bacterial strains isolated from Bari's volunteers in comparison with those from the cognate groups from the other centres. In conclusion, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria showed a genus-specific ability of modulating in vitro innate immunity associated with a specific dietary habit. Furthermore, the geographical area had a significant impact on the anti-inflammatory potential of some components of faecal microbiota.