Women and Their Microbes: The Unexpected Friendship

Trends Microbiol. 2018 Jan;26(1):16-32. doi: 10.1016/j.tim.2017.07.008. Epub 2017 Aug 23.


Communities of microbiota have been associated with numerous health outcomes, and while much emphasis has been placed on the gastrointestinal niche, there is growing interest in the microbiome specific for female reproductive health and the health of their offspring. The vaginal microbiome plays an essential role not only in health and dysbiosis, but also potentially in successful fertilization and healthy pregnancies. In addition, microbial communities have been isolated from formerly forbidden sterile niches such as the placenta, breast, uterus, and Fallopian tubes, strongly suggesting an additional microbial role in women's health. A combination of maternally linked prenatal, birth, and postnatal factors, together with environmental and medical interventions, influence early and later life through the microbiome. Here, we review the role of microbes in female health focusing on the vaginal tract and discuss how male and female reproductive microbiomes are intertwined with conception and how mother-child microbial transfer is a key determinant in infant health, and thus the next generation.

Keywords: birth; conception; menopause; microbial inheritance; pregnancy; probiotics; reproductive microbiome; urogenital health; women’s health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biofilms
  • Breast / microbiology
  • Dysbiosis / microbiology
  • Fallopian Tubes / microbiology
  • Female
  • Fertilization
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / immunology
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Health
  • Male
  • Microbiota / immunology
  • Microbiota / physiology*
  • Placenta / microbiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Probiotics
  • Reproductive Health
  • Uterus / microbiology
  • Vagina / immunology
  • Vagina / microbiology*