The genital econiche: focus on microbiota and bacterial vaginosis

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2011 Aug;1230:48-58. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06041.x.


Ecological and evolutionary forces shaping the normal and abnormal microflora of the genital econiche are discussed, in particular those related to bacterial vaginosis, which worldwide is the most common vaginal infection, with numerous obstetrical and gynecological complications, including acquisition and transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Characterized by a heavy overgrowth of Gram-negative and Gram-positive anaerobes with no signs of inflammation, bacterial vaginosis has been regarded a microbiological and immunological enigma. Immune tolerance to both normal and abnormal vaginal microbiota, mainly derived from gut microflora, as a result of coevolution with humans might explain the absence of inflammation, supported by short-chain fatty acids, known to modulate immune responses, that are produced in large quantities by anaerobes. Recent studies have implicated the development of a vaginal biofilm with Gardnerella vaginalis and Atopobium vaginae as main players in the pathogenesis of bacterial vaginosis. Supporting this conclusion are data such as those demonstrating heavy growth of G. vaginalis and diversified anaerobes with numerous "clue cells" that are sloughing off from the biofilm. Gardnerella and Atopobium organisms attached to these clue cells can be demonstrated in the male genital econiche, likely reflecting a heterosexual transmission of the disorder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Gardnerella vaginalis / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Metagenome / immunology
  • Vagina / immunology
  • Vagina / microbiology*
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / immunology
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / microbiology*