Host microbe interactions

Host microbe interactions: the vaginal microbiome (Prof. Remco Kort)

The vaginal mucosa hosts a community of commensal, symbiotic, and sometimes pathogenic microorganisms. The bacteria within this community, also referred as the vaginal microbiota, play an important role in protecting the vaginal tract from pathogenic infection, which can have far-reaching consequences on a woman’s sexual and reproductive health. Several vaginal microbiota compositions have been described, including those dominated by Lactobacillus iners, Lactobacillus crispatus, Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus jensenii, and those that are not dominated by a single bacterial species but rather consist of a highly diverse community of anaerobic bacteria, including Gardnerella vaginalis and members of the bacterial families of Lachnospiraceae, Leptotrichiaceae and Prevotellaceae. In particular, microbiota that are dominated by L. crispatus are associated with vaginal health, whereas microbiota consisting of diverse anaerobes – commonly referred to as vaginal dysbiosis –  has been shown to increase a woman’s odds for developing bacterial vaginosis, acquiring sexual transmitted diseases, and having adverse pregnancy outcomes. At the lab for systems biology we characterize the vaginal microbiota and human isolates of Lactobacillus crispatus in a variety of experimental settings with the aim to identify bacterial and human genetic and phenotypic characteristics pertaining to the successful domination of these lactobacilli. Accordingly, we aim to understand the transition from adverse to beneficial bacterial communities and vice versa that colonize the epithelium of the human vagina.

Schematic representation of the vaginal environment with either a Lactobacillus-dominated (LVM) or dysbiotic vaginal microbiota (DVM). Taken from Van der Veer, Hertzberger et al. and Kort (2019) Comparative genomics of human Lactobacillus crispatus isolates reveals genes for glycosylation and glycogen degradation: Implications for in vivo dominance of the vaginal microbiota. Microbiome 7, 49

Want to know more?

Go to the Reblab: a blog on metabolism of vaginal microbes by visiting scientist Dr. Rosanne Hertzberger

Past PhD-students with theses on the vaginal microbiome

Dr Joke Dols. Thesis: Clinical Perspective on the Vaginal Microbiome (13 Jan 2016)

Dr Charlotte van der Veer. Thesis:  Vaginal microbes in sexual health and disease (11 Jan 2019)

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