Promising Prebiotic Candidate Established by Evaluation of Lactitol, Lactulose, Raffinose, and Oligofructose for Maintenance of a Lactobacillus-Dominated Vaginal Microbiota

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2018 Feb 14;84(5):e02200-17. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02200-17. Print 2018 Mar 1.


Perturbations to the vaginal microbiota can lead to dysbiosis, including bacterial vaginosis (BV), which affects a large portion of the female population. In a healthy state, the vaginal microbiota is characterized by low diversity and colonization by Lactobacillus spp., whereas in BV, these species are displaced by a highly diverse population of bacteria associated with adverse vaginal health outcomes. Since prebiotic ingestion has been a highly effective approach to invigorate lactobacilli for improved intestinal health, we hypothesized that these compounds could stimulate lactobacilli at the expense of BV organisms to maintain vaginal health. Monocultures of commensal Lactobacillus crispatus, Lactobacillus vaginalis, Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus johnsonii, Lactobacillus jensenii, and Lactobacillus iners, in addition to BV-associated organisms and Candida albicans, were tested for their ability to utilize a representative group of prebiotics consisting of lactitol, lactulose, raffinose, and oligofructose. The disaccharide lactulose was found to most broadly and specifically stimulate vaginal lactobacilli, including the strongly health-associated species L. crispatus, and importantly, not to stimulate BV organisms or C. albicans Using freshly collected vaginal samples, we showed that exposure to lactulose promoted commensal Lactobacillus growth and dominance and resulted in healthy acidity partially through lactic acid production. This provides support for further testing of lactulose to prevent dysbiosis and potentially to reduce the need for antimicrobial agents in managing vaginal health.IMPORTANCE Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and other dysbioses of the vaginal microbiota significantly affect the quality of life of millions of women. Antimicrobial therapy is often poorly effective, causes side effects, and does not prevent recurrences. We report one of very few studies that have evaluated how prebiotics-compounds that are selectively fermented by beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus spp.-can modulate the vaginal microbiota. We also report use of a novel in vitro polymicrobial model to study the impact of prebiotics on the vaginal microbiota. The identification of prebiotic lactulose as enhancing Lactobacillus growth but not that of BV organisms or Candida albicans has direct application for retention of homeostasis and prevention of vaginal dysbiosis and infection.

Keywords: bacterial vaginosis; lactitol; lactobacilli; lactulose; oligofructose; prebiotics; raffinose; vaginal microbiota.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Dysbiosis / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lactobacillus / genetics
  • Lactobacillus / physiology*
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Metabolomics / methods*
  • Microbiota / drug effects*
  • Oligosaccharides / analysis*
  • Prebiotics / analysis*
  • RNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / analysis
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA / methods
  • Sugar Alcohols / analysis*
  • Vagina / microbiology*


  • Oligosaccharides
  • Prebiotics
  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Sugar Alcohols
  • lactitol

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