Human Milk Oligosaccharides Reduce Murine Group B Streptococcus Vaginal Colonization with Minimal Impact on the Vaginal Microbiota

mSphere. 2022 Feb 23;7(1):e0088521. doi: 10.1128/msphere.00885-21. Epub 2022 Jan 5.


Group B Streptococcus (GBS) colonizes the vaginal mucosa of a significant percentage of healthy women and is a leading cause of neonatal bacterial infections. Currently, pregnant women are screened in the last month of pregnancy, and GBS-positive women are given antibiotics during parturition to prevent bacterial transmission to the neonate. Recently, human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) isolated from breastmilk were found to inhibit GBS growth and biofilm formation in vitro, and women that make certain HMOs are less likely to be vaginally colonized with GBS. Using in vitro human vaginal epithelial cells and a murine vaginal colonization model, we tested the impact of HMO treatment on GBS burdens and the composition of the endogenous microbiota by 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing. HMO treatment reduced GBS vaginal burdens in vivo with minimal alterations to the vaginal microbiota. HMOs displayed potent inhibitory activity against GBS in vitro, but HMO pretreatment did not alter adherence of GBS or the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus to human vaginal epithelial cells. In addition, disruption of a putative GBS glycosyltransferase (Δsan_0913) rendered the bacterium largely resistant to HMO inhibition in vitro and in vivo but did not compromise its adherence, colonization, or biofilm formation in the absence of HMOs. We conclude that HMOs are a promising therapeutic bioactive to limit GBS vaginal colonization with minimal impacts on the vaginal microenvironment. IMPORTANCE During pregnancy, GBS ascension into the uterus can cause fetal infection or preterm birth. In addition, GBS exposure during labor creates a risk of serious disease in the vulnerable newborn and mother postpartum. Current recommended prophylaxis consists of administering broad-spectrum antibiotics to GBS-positive mothers during labor. Although antibiotics have significantly reduced GBS neonatal disease, there are several unintended consequences, including altered neonatal gut bacteria and increased risk for other types of infection. Innovative preventions displaying more targeted antimicrobial activity, while leaving the maternal microbiota intact, are thus appealing. Using a mouse model, we found that human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) reduce GBS burdens without perturbing the vaginal microbiota. We conclude that HMOs are a promising alternative to antibiotics to reduce GBS neonatal disease.

Keywords: antimicrobial activity; group B Streptococcus; human milk oligosaccharides; vaginal colonization; vaginal microbiota.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Mice
  • Microbiota*
  • Milk, Human
  • Oligosaccharides / therapeutic use
  • Pregnancy
  • Premature Birth*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Streptococcus agalactiae


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Oligosaccharides
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S