Comparison of Female Genital Tract Cytokine and Microbiota Signatures Induced by Initiation of Intramuscular DMPA and NET-EN Hormonal Contraceptives - a Prospective Cohort Analysis

Front Immunol. 2021 Dec 9;12:760504. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.760504. eCollection 2021.


Background: Cervicovaginal inflammation, bacterial microbiota and hormonal contraceptives all influence sexual and reproductive health. To date, the effects of intramuscular depo-medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA-IM) versus injectable norethisterone enanthate (NET-EN) on vaginal microbiota or cytokines have not been compared back-to-back, although in-vitro data suggest that DMPA-IM and NET-EN have different pharmacokinetic and biologic activities. This study aimed at comparing the effects of DMPA-IM versus NET-EN initiation on cervicovaginal cytokines and microbiota in women at high risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) assigned to the respective contraceptives.

Methods: We collected socio-demographic characteristics and vaginal samples from women initiating DMPA-IM (ECHO Trial; n = 53) and NET-EN (UChoose Trial; n = 44) at baseline and after two consecutive injections to assess cytokine concentrations by Luminex, vaginal microbiota by 16S rRNA gene sequencing, STIs, bacterial vaginosis (BV) and candidiasis.

Results: Cytokine concentrations did not change significantly after initiating DMPA-IM or NET-EN, although NET-EN versus DMPA-IM-associated profiles were distinct. While the abundance of bacterial taxa associated with optimal and non-optimal microbiota fluctuated with DMPA-IM use, overall community composition did not significantly change with either contraceptive. HSV-2 serology, chlamydial infection, gonorrhoea and candidiasis did not influence the associations between contraceptive type and cervicovaginal cytokines or microbiota.

Conclusions: Both DMPA-IM and NET-EN use did not lead to broad inflammatory or microbiota changes in the female genital tract of sub-Saharan African women. This suggests that NET-EN is likely a viable option for contraception in African women at high risk of BV and STIs.

Keywords: HIV risk; Sub-Saharan Africa; female genital tract; hormonal contraception; inflammation; microbiome.

Publication types

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