Vaginal and oral microbes, host genotype and preterm birth

Med Hypotheses. 2009 Dec;73(6):963-75. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.06.017.


Preterm birth (PTB) is a leading cause of infant mortality and morbidity in the US and across the globe. Infection and associated inflammation are important initiators for PTB pathways; an estimated 40% of PTBs are attributed to amniochorionic-decidual or systemic inflammation. Historically, intrauterine infections have been implicated in PTB; recent evidence suggests that infections remote from the fetal site may also be causative. There is strong epidemiological evidence that bacterial vaginosis and periodontitis--two syndromes characterized by perturbations in the normal vaginal and oral bacterial microflora, respectively--are linked to infection-associated PTB. Oral and vaginal environments are similar in their bacterial microbiology; identical bacterial species have been independently isolated in periodontitis and bacterial vaginosis. Periodontitis and bacterial vaginosis also share many behavioral and sociodemographic risk factors suggesting a possible common pathophysiology. Genetic polymorphisms in host inflammatory responses to infection are shared between bacterial vaginosis, periodontitis and PTB, suggesting common mechanisms through which host genotype modify the effect of abnormal bacterial colonization on preterm birth. We review the state of knowledge regarding the risk of PTB attributable to perturbations in bacterial flora in oral and vaginal sites and the role of host genetics in modifying the risk of infection-related PTB. We posit that bacterial species that are common in perturbed vaginal and oral sites are associated with PTB through their interaction with the host immune system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amniotic Fluid / microbiology
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Mouth / microbiology*
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature*
  • Periodontitis / microbiology
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Pregnancy
  • Vagina / microbiology*
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / microbiology