Association between the vaginal microbiota, menopause status, and signs of vulvovaginal atrophy

Departments of 4Pediatrics and Neurovirology and 5Obstetrics and Gynecology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD
Menopause (New York, N.Y.) (Impact Factor: 3.36). 09/2013; 21(5). DOI: 10.1097/GME.0b013e3182a4690b
Source: PubMed


The vaginal microbiota helps protect the female genital tract from disease. We sought to describe the composition of the vaginal microbiota in premenopausal, perimenopausal, and postmenopausal women and to explore the association between the microbiota and vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA).
Eighty-seven women (aged 35-60 y) were classified as premenopausal (n = 30), perimenopausal (n = 29), or postmenopausal (n = 28) according to Stages of Reproductive Aging Workshop guidelines. Midvaginal bacterial community composition was characterized by 16S ribosomal RNA gene analysis.
Bacterial communities clustered into six community state types (CSTs), of which four were dominated by Lactobacillus crispatus, Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus iners, or Lactobacillus jensenii, and two (CST IV-A and CST IV-B) had low relative abundance of Lactobacillus. CST IV-A was characterized by Streptococcus and Prevotella, whereas CST IV-B was characterized by Atopobium. There were significant associations between menopause stage and CST (P = 0.004) and between VVA and CST (P = 0.002). Perimenopausal women were more likely to be classified as CST IV-A or L. gasseri CST, whereas postmenopausal women were often classified as CST IV-A. CSTs dominated by L. crispatus and L. iners were more prevalent in premenopausal women. Nineteen participants had signs of mild or moderate VVA. Compared with women with no VVA, the vaginal microbiota of women with mild or moderate atrophy had 25-fold greater odds of being classified as CST IV-A versus L. crispatus CST (adjusted odds ratio, 25.89; 95% credible interval, 2.98-406.79).
A distinct bacterial community state (CST IV-A) with a low relative abundance of Lactobacillus is associated with VVA. Future studies recruiting a larger number of women are needed to replicate the findings. This study provides an impetus for future longitudinal studies designed to manage, modulate, and restore vaginal microbiota homeostasis, which would provide stronger evidence for a causal relationship with VVA and ultimately improve the treatment and prevention of atrophic vaginitis in menopause.

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    • "Nicotine and its metabolite cotinine have been detected in the cervical mucus of smokers [21–23]. It is also hypothesized that smoking leads to an accumulation of vaginal amines, [21] which combined with the antiestrogenic effect of smoking [24] predisposes a woman to BV. Women who smoke have significantly lower levels of mid-cycle and luteal phase estradiol compared with non-smokers, [24] and it is well documented that the vaginal microenvironment is influenced by endogenous estrogen [25–27]. In addition, trace amounts of benzo[a]pyrene diol epoxide (BPDE) are found in the vaginal secretions of women who smoke and BPDE significantly increases bacteriophage induction in lactobacilli [28]. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background Smoking has been identified in observational studies as a risk factor for bacterial vaginosis (BV), a condition defined in part by decimation of Lactobacillus spp. The anti-estrogenic effect of smoking and trace amounts of benzo[a]pyrene diol epoxide (BPDE) may predispose women to BV. BPDE increases bacteriophage induction in Lactobacillus spp. and is found in the vaginal secretions of smokers. We compared the vaginal microbiota between smokers and non-smokers and followed microbiota changes in a smoking cessation pilot study. Methods In 2010–2011, 20 smokers and 20 non-smokers were recruited to a cross-sectional study (Phase A) and 9 smokers were enrolled and followed for a 12-week smoking cessation program (Phase B). Phase B included weekly behavioral counseling and nicotine patches to encourage smoking cessation. In both phases, participants self-collected mid-vaginal swabs (daily, Phase B) and completed behavioral surveys. Vaginal bacterial composition was characterized by pyrosequencing of barcoded 16S rRNA genes (V1-V3 regions). Vaginal smears were assigned Nugent Gram stain scores. Smoking status was evaluated (weekly, Phase B) using the semi-quantitative NicAlert® saliva cotinine test and carbon monoxide (CO) exhalation. Results In phase A, there was a significant trend for increasing saliva cotinine and CO exhalation with elevated Nugent scores (P value <0.005). Vaginal microbiota clustered into three community state types (CSTs); two dominated by Lactobacillus (L. iners, L. crispatus), and one lacking significant numbers of Lactobacillus spp. and characterized by anaerobes (termed CST-IV). Women who were observed in the low-Lactobacillus CST-IV state were 25-fold more likely to be smokers than those dominated by L. crispatus (aOR: 25.61, 95 % CI: 1.03-636.61). Four women completed Phase B. One of three who entered smoking cessation with high Nugent scores demonstrated a switch from CST-IV to a L.iners-dominated profile with a concomitant drop in Nugent scores which coincided with completion of nicotine patches. The other two women fluctuated between CST-IV and L. iners-dominated CSTs. The fourth woman had low Nugent scores with L. crispatus-dominated CSTs throughout. Conclusion Smokers had a lower proportion of vaginal Lactobacillus spp. compared to non-smokers. Smoking cessation should be investigated as an adjunct to reducing recurrent BV. Larger studies are needed to confirm these findings.
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