The vaginal microbiota, host defence and reproductive physiology

J Physiol. 2017 Jan 15;595(2):451-463. doi: 10.1113/JP271694. Epub 2016 May 5.

Abstract

The interaction between the human host and the vaginal microbiota is highly dynamic. Major changes in the vaginal physiology and microbiota over a woman's lifetime are largely shaped by transitional periods such as puberty, menopause and pregnancy, while daily fluctuations in microbial composition observed through culture-independent studies are more likely to be the results of daily life activities and behaviours. The vaginal microbiota of reproductive-aged women is largely made up of at least five different community state types. Four of these community state types are dominated by lactic-acid producing Lactobacillus spp. while the fifth is commonly composed of anaerobes and strict anaerobes and is sometimes associated with vaginal symptoms. The production of lactic acid has been associated with contributing to the overall health of the vagina due to its direct and indirect effects on pathogens and host defence. Some species associated with non-Lactobacillus vaginal microbiota may trigger immune responses as well as degrade the host mucosa, processes that ultimately increase susceptibility to infections and contribute to negative reproductive outcomes such as infertility and preterm birth. Further studies are needed to better understand the functional underpinnings of how the vaginal microbiota affect host physiology but also how host physiology affects the vaginal microbiota. Understanding this fine-tuned interaction is key to maintaining women's reproductive health.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena
  • Female
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*
  • Reproduction / physiology*
  • Vagina / microbiology*