Background: Bacterial vaginosis (BV), the most common vaginal condition of reproductive-aged women, is associated with a highly diverse and heterogeneous microbiota. Here we present a proof-of-principle analysis to uncover the function of the microbiota using meta-RNA-seq to uncover genes and pathways that potentially differentiate healthy vaginal microbial communities from those in the dysbiotic state of bacterial vaginosis (BV).
Results: The predominant organism, Lactobacillus iners, was present in both conditions and showed a differing expression profile in BV compared to healthy. Despite its minimal genome, L. iners differentially expressed over 10% of its gene complement. Notably, in a BV environment L. iners increased expression of a cholesterol-dependent cytolysin, and of mucin and glycerol transport and related metabolic enzymes. Genes belonging to a CRISPR system were greatly upregulated suggesting that bacteriophage influence the community. Reflective of L. iners, the bacterial community as a whole demonstrated a preference for glycogen and glycerol as carbon sources under BV conditions. The predicted end-products of metabolism under BV conditions include an abundance of succinate and other short-chain fatty-acids, while healthy conditions are predicted to largely contain lactic acid.
Conclusions: Our study underscores the importance of understanding the functional activity of the bacterial community in addition to characterizing the population structure when investigating the human microbiome.