Monday, May 19, 2014

 

The overly simplistic notion of a Lactobacillus-dominated vaginal microbiome is giving way to an appreciation of diverse and dynamic bacterial communities.

By Jef Akst

For years, researchers characterized the microbial community of women’s vaginas as being dominated byLactobacillus bacteria, which ferment carbohydrates to lactic acid, yielding a low pH that is toxic to many pathogenic microbes. When levels of Lactobacillus drop, the pH becomes more neutral, and the risk of infection rises.

But with research revealing notable variation among women’s vaginal microbiomes, as well as some interesting dynamics of the microbial communities within a single organ, “that dogma is changing a little bit,” said Gregory Buck of the Vaginal Microbiome Consortium at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).

The composition and stability of the vaginal microbiome varies by race, age, even within an individual—and it’s quickly become clear that the formula for a “normal,” “healthy” microbial community cannot be computed by ratios of bacterial species. “In the past we’ve made some generalizations about what kinds of bacteria are found in the vagina, what kinds of bacteria are good or healthy or protective,” said microbial ecologist Larry Forney of the University of Idaho. “What the research is showing is there are tremendous differences between women in terms of the kinds of bacteria that are present and the changes in the communities that occur over time.”

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