Microbiology & Immunology Publications
Women and Their Microbes: The Unexpected Friendship
Trends in Microbiology
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Communities of microbiota have been associated with numerous health outcomes, and while much emphasis has been placed on the gastrointestinal niche, there is growing interest in the microbiome specific for female reproductive health and the health of their offspring. The vaginal microbiome plays an essential role not only in health and dysbiosis, but also potentially in successful fertilization and healthy pregnancies. In addition, microbial communities have been isolated from formerly forbidden sterile niches such as the placenta, breast, uterus, and Fallopian tubes, strongly suggesting an additional microbial role in women's health. A combination of maternally linked prenatal, birth, and postnatal factors, together with environmental and medical interventions, influence early and later life through the microbiome. Here, we review the role of microbes in female health focusing on the vaginal tract and discuss how male and female reproductive microbiomes are intertwined with conception and how mother–child microbial transfer is a key determinant in infant health, and thus the next generation. Understanding and identifying more relevant biomarkers will be a step forward in diagnosing and ultimately treating dysbiosis in women's health. There is a possible role for microbes during fertilization, implantation, and gestation. Overlap of vaginal and penile microbiomes in shared sexual partners could have strong implications for reproductive and urogenital health. Forbidden female niches such as the breast, bladder, placenta, and amniotic fluid, are not sterile as previously thought. Microbial seeding, metabolic and immunological priming of the infant is thought to already happen in utero.