The perinatal microbiome and pregnancy: moving beyond the vaginal microbiome

Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2015 Mar 16;5(6):a023051. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a023051.


The human microbiome, the collective genome of the microbial community that is on and within us, has recently been mapped. The initial characterization of healthy subjects has provided investigators with a reference population for interrogating the microbiome in metabolic, intestinal, and reproductive health and disease states. Although it is known that bacteria can colonize the vagina, recent metagenomic studies have shown that the vaginal microbiome varies among reproductive age women. Similarly, the richness and diversity of intestinal microbiota also naturally fluctuate among gravidae in both human and nonhuman primates, as well as mice. Moreover, recent evidence suggests that microbiome niches in pregnancy are not limited to maternal body sites, as the placenta appears to harbor a low biomass microbiome that is presumptively established in early pregnancy and varies in association with a remote history of maternal antenatal infection as well as preterm birth. In this article, we will provide a brief overview on metagenomics science as a means to investigate the microbiome, observations pertaining to both variation and the presumptive potential role of a varied microbiome during pregnancy, and how future studies of the microbiome in pregnancy may lend to a better understanding of human biology, reproductive health, and parturition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • Female
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Vertical
  • Metagenomics / methods*
  • Mice
  • Microbiota / genetics
  • Microbiota / physiology*
  • Placenta / microbiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious / microbiology*
  • Reproductive Health
  • Vagina / microbiology*


  • DNA, Bacterial