Experimental models of the vaginal microbiome and bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a condition of the vaginal microbiota characterized by low levels of ‘healthy’ lactobacilli and overgrowth of diverse potential pathogens. BV is associated with higher risks of adverse women’s health outcomes such as sexually transmitted infection, infertility, intrauterine infections, and preterm birth. Relatively few labs are engaged in basic research on BV, and the field has suffered from a lack of in vivo model systems. We have pioneered the first mouse models of BV, providing evince for a causal role played by pathogenic Gardnerella in some of the features and health complications associated with BV. In multiple instances spanning a wide taxonomic breadth, we have found that Gardnerella can enable the survival and virulence of other pathogens.

  1. Gilbert NM, Lewis WG, Lewis AL. 2013 Clinical features of bacterial vaginosis in a murine model of vaginal infection with Gardnerella vaginalis. PLoS One. 8(3):e59539. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone. 0059539. Epub 2013 Mar 19. PMID: 23527214. Pubmed Central PMCID: PMC360228

  2. Gilbert NM, Lewis WG, Li G, Sojka DK, Lubin JB, and Lewis AL. Gardnerella vaginalis and Prevotella bivia trigger distinct and overlapping phenotypes in a mouse model of bacterial vaginosis. Journal of Infectious Disease. 2019 Feb 1. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiy704. PMID 30715405 PMCID: PMC6736442

  3. Agarwal KA, Robinson LS, Aggarwal S, Lynne Foster LR, Hernandez-Leyva A, Lin H, Tortelli BA, O’Brien VP, Miller L, Kau AL, Reno H, Gilbert NM, Lewis WG, Lewis AL. Glycan cross-feeding supports mutualism between Fusobacterium and the vaginal microbiota. PLoS Biology, 2020 Aug 25;18(8):e3000788.doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000788. eCollection 2020 Aug. PMID: 32841232 PMCID: PMC7447053

  4. Gilbert, NM Foster LR, Cao B, Yin Y, Mysorekar IU, Lewis AL.  Gardnerella vaginalis promotes group B Streptococcus vaginal colonization, enabling ascending uteroplacental infection in pregnant mice.  Am J Obstet Gynecol, 2020 Nov 25, S0002-9378(20)31331-4. doi:10.1016/j.ajog.2020.11.032 PMID: 33248136

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Transmission electron micrograph of Gardnerella vaginalis

in association with a mouse vaginal epithelial cell.