Background: In our studies on women with bacterial vaginosis (BV) in early pregnancy a strong association has been found between BV and the levels of endotoxin or interleukin-1alpha (IL-1alpha) in the lower genital tract. In the present study we investigated if an association could be found between BV and other cytokines (IL-1beta, IL-6, tumor necrosis factor alpha, TNF) or fetal fibronectin (FFN). The cytokine-inducing capacity of endotoxins present in the cervical mucus was explored in a monocytic cell assay.
Methods: Cervical mucus or cervicovaginal fluid was collected from women with (BV) and without BV (nonBV) attending a family planning unit for first trimester abortion. The concentrations of IL-1beta, IL-6, TNF and FFN were determined by quantitative enzyme immunoassays. TNF was determined in 63 women (BV, n=25) out of whom 37 (BV, n=11) were analyzed for IL-1beta and the remaining 26 for IL-6 (BV, n=14). FFN was determined in another 36 women (BV, n= 19). The cytokine-inducing capacity of endotoxin-containing cervical mucus and purified endotoxin of Prevotella bivia were studied by an in vitro cell assay using a human monocytic cell line (THP-1).
Results: IL-lbeta and IL-6 were found in almost all women. The levels of IL-1beta, but not IL-6, TNF or FFN, were significantly increased in women with BV compared with the nonBV women (p<0.05). Purified endotoxin from P. bivia, and cervical mucus from BV women containing high levels of endotoxin were able to induce a cytokine response (IL-6) in monocytic cells in vitro.
Conclusion: BV is associated with increased levels of IL-1beta in the lower genital tract of pregnant women in the first trimester. The ability of BV-associated endotoxins to induce cytokine production in monocytic cells may partly explain the increased IL-1beta levels.