Identification of novel mechanisms involved in generating localized vulvodynia pain

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2015 Jul;213(1):38.e1-38.e12. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2015.02.002. Epub 2015 Feb 12.


Objective: Our goal was to gain a better understanding of the inflammatory pathways affected during localized vulvodynia, a poorly understood, common, and debilitating condition characterized by chronic pain of the vulvar vestibule.

Study design: In a control matched study, primary human fibroblast strains were generated from biopsies collected from localized provoked vulvodynia (LPV) cases and from age- and race-matched controls. We then examined intracellular mechanisms by which these fibroblasts recognize pathogenic Candida albicans; >70% of vulvodynia patients report the occurrence of prior chronic Candida infections, which is accompanied by localized inflammation and elevated production of proinflammatory/pain-associated interleukin (IL)-6 and prostaglandin E2 (PGE2). We focused on examining the signaling pathways involved in recognition of yeast components that are present and abundant during chronic infection.

Results: Dectin-1, a surface receptor that binds C albicans cell wall glucan, was significantly elevated in vestibular vs external vulvar cells (from areas without pain) in both cases and controls, while its abundance was highest in LPV cases. Blocking Dectin-1 signaling significantly reduced pain-associated IL-6 and PGE2 production during the response to C albicans. Furthermore, LPV patient vestibular cells produced inflammatory mediators in response to low numbers of C albicans cells, while external vulvar fibroblasts were nonresponsive. Inhibition of nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (proinflammatory transcription factor) nearly abrogated IL-6 and PGE2 production induced by C albicans, in keeping with observations that Dectin-1 signals through the nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells pathway.

Conclusion: These findings implicate that a fibroblast-mediated proinflammatory response to C albicans contributes to the induction of pain in LPV cases. Targeting this response may be an ideal strategy for the development of new vulvodynia therapies.

Keywords: Dectin-1; cytokine; fibroblast; inflammation; interleukin 6; prostaglandin; vulvodynia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Candidiasis, Vulvovaginal / physiopathology
  • Dinoprostone / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Interleukin-6 / metabolism
  • Lectins, C-Type / metabolism
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Vulvodynia / microbiology
  • Vulvodynia / physiopathology*


  • Interleukin-6
  • Lectins, C-Type
  • NF-kappa B
  • dectin 1
  • Dinoprostone