Colonization by Lactobacillus in the female genital tract is thought to be critical for maintaining genital health. However, little is known about how genital microbiota influence host immune function and modulate disease susceptibility. We studied a cohort of asymptomatic young South African women and found that the majority of participants had genital communities with low Lactobacillus abundance and high ecological diversity. High-diversity communities strongly correlated with genital pro-inflammatory cytokine concentrations in both cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Transcriptional profiling suggested that genital antigen-presenting cells sense gram-negative bacterial products in situ via Toll-like receptor 4 signaling, contributing to genital inflammation through activation of the NF-κB signaling pathway and recruitment of lymphocytes by chemokine production. Our study proposes a mechanism by which cervicovaginal microbiota impact genital inflammation and thereby might affect a woman's reproductive health, including her risk of acquiring HIV.
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