Microbial Composition Predicts Genital Tract Inflammation and Persistent Bacterial Vaginosis in South African Adolescent Females

Infect Immun. 2017 Dec 19;86(1):e00410-17. doi: 10.1128/IAI.00410-17. Print 2018 Jan.


Young African females are at an increased risk of HIV acquisition, and genital inflammation or the vaginal microbiome may contribute to this risk. We studied these factors in 168 HIV-negative South African adolescent females aged 16 to 22 years. Unsupervised clustering of 16S rRNA gene sequences revealed three clusters (subtypes), one of which was strongly associated with genital inflammation. In a multivariate model, the microbiome compositional subtype and hormonal contraception were significantly associated with genital inflammation. We identified 40 taxa significantly associated with inflammation, including those reported previously (Prevotella, Sneathia, Aerococcus, Fusobacterium, and Gemella) as well as several novel taxa (including increased frequencies of bacterial vaginosis-associated bacterium 1 [BVAB1], BVAB2, BVAB3, Prevotella amnii, Prevotella pallens, Parvimonas micra, Megasphaera, Gardnerella vaginalis, and Atopobium vaginae and decreased frequencies of Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus crispatus, Lactobacillus jensenii, and Lactobacillus iners). Women with inflammation-associated microbiomes had significantly higher body mass indices and lower levels of endogenous estradiol and luteinizing hormone. Community functional profiling revealed three distinct vaginal microbiome subtypes, one of which was characterized by extreme genital inflammation and persistent bacterial vaginosis (BV); this subtype could be predicted with high specificity and sensitivity based on the Nugent score (≥9) or BVAB1 abundance. We propose that women with this BVAB1-dominated subtype may have chronic genital inflammation due to persistent BV, which may place them at a particularly high risk for HIV infection.

Keywords: 16S RNA; HIV susceptibility; HIV target cells; female genital tract microbiome; inflammation; vaginal microbiome.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Female
  • Genitalia / microbiology*
  • HIV Infections / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / microbiology*
  • Microbiota / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Reproductive Tract Infections / microbiology*
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / microbiology*
  • Young Adult


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S