Exploring the global vaginal microbiome and its impact on human health

Microb Pathog. 2021 Nov;160:105172. doi: 10.1016/j.micpath.2021.105172. Epub 2021 Sep 6.


Around the world, more than 175,000,000 women are diagnosed every year with gynaecological disease, in many cases contributing to high morbidity and mortality. For this reason, knowledge of the composition of the vaginal microbiome and its variations represents a real health challenge, as this is key to improving therapeutic management. This review traces the history of the poorly known vaginal microbiome and focuses on the latest findings concerning this ecosystem. Studies in the past decade have targeted complex bacterial communities within the vagina. However, due to the development of technology and the emergence of next generation sequencing (NGS), the exact definition of the vaginal microbiome has changed and can no longer be linked solely to the presence of bacteria. In order to reach a global view of the vaginal microbiome, it is essential to take into account all microorganisms that the vagina harbours, including fungi, viruses, archaea, and candidate phyla radiation. Although these communities represent only a minimal percentage of the vaginal microbiome, they may act as modifiers of its basic physiology and may play a key role in the maintenance of microbial communities, as well as metabolic and immune functions. Studies of the complex interactions between these different microorganisms have recently begun and are not yet fully understood. Results to date indicate that these microbial communities together constitute the first line of defence against infections. On the other hand, the slightest disturbance in this microbiome may lead to disease. For this reason, enhanced knowledge of these associations is critical to better identify predispositions to certain illnesses, which may open new therapeutic avenues. Currently however, only the tip of the iceberg is understood and current research on this ecosystem is revolutionising our knowledge and understanding of human health and disease.

Keywords: Bacteria; Candidate phyla radiation; Fungus; Methanogens; Vaginal microbiome; Virus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Female
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*
  • Vagina