Until recently, bacterial species that inhabit the human vagina have been primarily studied using organism-centric approaches. Understanding how these bacterial species interact with each other and the host vaginal epithelium is essential for a more complete understanding of vaginal health. Molecular approaches have already led to the identification of uncultivated bacterial taxa associated with bacterial vaginosis. Here, we review recent studies of the vaginal microbiome and discuss how culture-independent approaches, such as applications of next-generation sequencing, are advancing the field and shifting our understanding of how vaginal health is defined. This work may lead to improved diagnostic tools and treatments for women who suffer from, or are at risk for, vaginal imbalances, pregnancy complications, and sexually acquired infections. These approaches may also transform our understanding of how host genetic factors, physiological conditions (e.g., menopause), and environmental exposures (e.g., smoking, antibiotic usage) influence the vaginal microbiome.
Copyright © 2012 Verlag Helvetica Chimica Acta AG, Zürich.