Understanding vaginal microbiome complexity from an ecological perspective

Transl Res. 2012 Oct;160(4):267-82. doi: 10.1016/j.trsl.2012.02.008. Epub 2012 Mar 6.


The various microbiota normally associated with the human body have an important influence on human development, physiology, immunity, and nutrition. This is certainly true for the vagina wherein communities of mutualistic bacteria constitute the first line of defense for the host by excluding invasive, nonindigenous organisms that may cause disease. In recent years much has been learned about the bacterial species composition of these communities and how they differ between individuals of different ages and ethnicities. A deeper understanding of their origins and the interrelationships of constituent species is needed to understand how and why they change over time or in response to changes in the host environment. Moreover, there are few unifying theories to explain the ecological dynamics of vaginal ecosystems as they respond to disturbances caused by menses and human activities such as intercourse, douching, and other habits and practices. This fundamental knowledge is needed to diagnose and assess risk to disease. Here we summarize what is known about the species composition, structure, and function of bacterial communities in the human vagina and the applicability of ecological models of community structure and function to understanding the dynamics of this and other ecosystems that comprise the human microbiome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Vagina / microbiology*
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / microbiology