Role of Shigella infection in endometriosis: a novel hypothesis

Med Hypotheses. 2008;70(2):239-43. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2007.06.012. Epub 2007 Sep 20.


Endometriosis is the presence of endometrial cells and stroma at ectopic sites outside the uterine cavity. The natural history of endometriosis is uncertain, its etiology unknown, the clinical presentation inconsistent, diagnosis difficult and the treatment poorly standardized. It causes significant morbidity due to pelvic pain and infertility among 15-25% of women during their reproductive age. The benign disease causes peritoneal inflammation, fibrosis, adhesions and ovarian cysts but displays features of malignancy, like neo-vascularization, local invasion and distant metastasis. Mechanical, hormonal, immunological, environmental and genetic factors have been implicated in its etiology but provide inconclusive explanations. Present study was carried out on ectopic and eutopic endometriotic tissue specimens collected during laproscopy/laprotomy from cases of endometriosis. mRNA was isolated from the tissues and converted to cDNA by RT and subsequently subjected to differential display Polymerase Chain Reaction using seven sets of arbitrary primers. A unique band was identified only in the ectopic endometriotic tissue, which was sequenced. BLAST search results revealed sequence homology to shigella bacterial DNA leading us to hypothesize that infection may be playing a role in the etiology of endometriosis. This is the first report implicating the role of bacterial infection in the etiology of endometriosis. Shigella is known to invade the mucosa of the colon through the feco-oral route causing Shigellosis. The pathogenesis of shigellosis involves inflammation, ulceration, haemorrhage, tissue destruction and fibrosis of the colonic mucosa resulting in abdominal pain and diarrhoea/dysentery, this is similar to the pathogenesis of endometriosis which also involves inflammation, haemorrhage, tissue destruction and fibrotic adhesions of the pelvic peritoneum resulting in abdominal pain and infertility. The non-motile shigella bacteria invade the deeper mucosal layers by travelling from cell to cell of colonic epithelium, reaching the lamina propria of the colonic mucosa. We propose that, by the same mechanism, the bacteria travel across the colon wall to reach the outer peritoneal surface of the colon, which is in close proximity to the posterior uterine surface in the Pouch of Douglas, the site which incidentally happens to be the commonest site of early endometriosis. Our hypothesis therefore proposes that shigella or shigella-like organisms may be the trigger for the initiation of immunological changes in the pelvic peritoneum causing endometriosis. Once the endometrial cells are implanted at ectopic sites they are sustained by hormones and angiogenic factors. Hence "Infection hypothesis" provides a novel explanation for the etiopathogenesis of endometriosis.

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Bacterial / isolation & purification
  • Dysentery, Bacillary / complications*
  • Endometriosis / etiology*
  • Endometriosis / microbiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Shigella / genetics
  • Shigella / isolation & purification
  • Shigella / pathogenicity


  • DNA, Bacterial