Human Cervical Mucus Plugs Exhibit Insufficiencies in Antimicrobial Activity Towards Group B Streptococcus

J Infect Dis. 2018 Apr 23;217(10):1626-1636. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiy076.


Preterm birth is a leading cause of neonatal mortality and lacks an effective therapy. Ascending microbial infections from the lower genital tract lead to infection of the placenta, amniotic fluid, and fetus causing preterm birth or stillbirth. Directly in the path of an ascending infection is the cervical mucus plug (CMP), a dense mucoid structure in the cervical canal with potential antimicrobial properties. In this study, we aimed to define the components of CMP responsible for antimicrobial activity against a common lower genital tract organism associated with preterm birth and stillbirths, namely, group B streptococcus (GBS). Using a quantitative proteomic approach, we identified antimicrobial factors in CMPs that were collected from healthy human pregnancies. However, we noted that the concentration of antimicrobial peptides present in the human CMPs were insufficient to directly kill GBS, and antimicrobial activity, when observed, was due to antibiotics retained in the CMPs. Despite this insufficiency, CMP proteins were able to activate leukocytes in whole blood resulting in increased rates of bacterial killing, suggesting a role for the CMP in enhancing complement-mediated killing or leukocyte activation. This study provides new insight into how the human CMP may limit ascending bacterial infection.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amniotic Fluid / microbiology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cervix Mucus / microbiology*
  • Cervix Uteri / microbiology
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Placenta / microbiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth / microbiology
  • Proteomics
  • Streptococcal Infections / drug therapy*
  • Streptococcus / drug effects*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents