Bacteria in the vaginal microbiome alter the innate immune response and barrier properties of the human vaginal epithelia in a species-specific manner

Sylvie Y. Doerflinger, Andrea L. Throop, Melissa M. Herbst-Kralovetz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

224 Scopus citations


Background. Bacterial vaginosis increases the susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections and negatively affects women's reproductive health. Methods. To investigate host-vaginal microbiota interactions and the impact on immune barrier function, we colonized 3-dimensional (3-D) human vaginal epithelial cells with 2 predominant species of vaginal microbiota (Lactobacillus iners and Lactobacillus crispatus) or 2 prevalent bacteria associated with bacterial vaginosis (Atopobium vaginae and Prevotella bivia). Results. Colonization of 3-D vaginal epithelial cell aggregates with vaginal microbiota was observed with direct attachment to host cell surface with no cytotoxicity. A. vaginae infection yielded increased expression membrane-associated mucins and evoked a robust proinflammatory, immune response in 3-D vaginal epithelial cells (ie, expression of CCL20, hBD-2, interleukin 1β, interleukin 6, interleukin 8, and tumor necrosis factor α) that can negatively affect barrier function. However, P. bivia and L. crispatus did not significantly upregulate pattern-recognition receptor-signaling, mucin expression, antimicrobial peptides/defensins, or proinflammatory cytokines in 3-D vaginal epithelial cell aggregates. Notably, L. iners induced pattern-recognition receptor-signaling activity, but no change was observed in mucin expression or secretion of interleukin 6 and interleukin 8. Conclusions. We identified unique species-specific immune signatures from vaginal epithelial cells elicited by colonization with commensal and bacterial vaginosis-associated bacteria. A. vaginae elicited a signature that is consistent with significant disruption of immune barrier properties, potentially resulting in enhanced susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections during bacterial vaginosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1989-1999
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Infectious Diseases
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 15 2014


  • Atopobium vaginae
  • Lactobacillus spp.
  • Prevotella bivia
  • antimicrobial peptides
  • barrier function
  • epithelial cell
  • female reproductive tract
  • innate immunity
  • mucin
  • sexually transmitted infection
  • toll-like receptor
  • vagina
  • vaginal microbiota and bacterial vaginosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Infectious Diseases


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