Vaginal sialoglycan foraging by Gardnerella vaginalis: mucus barriers as a meal for unwelcome guests?

Glycobiology. 2021 Jun 29;31(6):667-680. doi: 10.1093/glycob/cwab024.


Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a condition of the vaginal microbiome in which there are few lactobacilli and abundant anaerobic bacteria. Members of the genus Gardnerella are often one of the most abundant bacteria in BV. BV is associated with a wide variety of poor health outcomes for women. It has been recognized since the 1980s that women with BV have detectable and sometimes markedly elevated levels of sialidase activity in vaginal fluids and that bacteria associated with this condition produce this activity in culture. Mounting evidence collected using diverse methodologies points to the conclusion that BV is associated with a reduction in intact sialoglycans in cervicovaginal secretions. Here we review evidence for the contributions of vaginal bacteria, especially Gardnerella, in the processes of mucosal sialoglycan degradation, uptake, metabolism and depletion. Our understanding of the impacts of vaginal sialoglycan degradation is still limited. However, the potential implications of sialic acid depletion are discussed in light of our current understanding of the roles played by sialoglycans in vaginal physiology.

Keywords: Gardnerella; bacterial vaginosis; microbiome; sialic acid; sialidase.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Gardnerella vaginalis* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mucus / metabolism
  • Neuraminidase / metabolism
  • Vagina / metabolism
  • Vagina / microbiology
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial* / microbiology


  • Neuraminidase