The cytokine response of macrophages to probiotic lactobacilli varies between strains, and the balance of IL-10/IL-12 production is crucial for determination of the direction of the immune response. To clarify the mechanism whereby Lactobacillus strains differentially induce production of IL-10 and IL-12, we examined the potential relationship between cytokine production and MAPK activation. In mouse peritoneal macrophages, Lactobacillus plantarum potently induced IL-10 but weakly induced IL-12 production, whereas L. casei potently induced IL-12 but weakly induced IL-10 production. Kinetic analysis of the activation of ERK, p38, and JNK showed that L. plantarum induced a more rapid and intense activation of MAPKs, especially of ERK, than L. casei. A selective blockade of ERK activation induced by L. plantarum resulted in a decrease in IL-10 production and a simultaneous increase in IL-12 production. Interestingly, when macrophages were stimulated with a combination of L. plantarum and L. casei, IL-10 production was induced synergistically. We identified cell wall teichoic acid and lipoteichoic acid as key factors for triggering the synergistic induction of IL-10 production, although these teichoic acids alone only weakly induced IL-10 production. The effect of these teichoic acids on IL-10 production was mediated by TLR2-dependent ERK activation. Our data demonstrate that activation of the ERK pathway is critical for determination of the balance of the IL-10/IL-12 response of macrophages to lactobacilli and that predominant IL-12 production induced by certain lactobacilli such as L. casei can be converted into predominant IL-10 production when stimulated in the presence of teichoic acids.