Lactobacillus iners: Friend or Foe?
Trends in Microbiology
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The vaginal microbial community is typically characterized by abundant lactobacilli. Lactobacillus iners, a fairly recently detected species, is frequently present in the vaginal niche. However, the role of this species in vaginal health is unclear, since it can be detected in normal conditions as well as during vaginal dysbiosis, such as bacterial vaginosis, a condition characterized by an abnormal increase in bacterial diversity and lack of typical lactobacilli. Compared to other Lactobacillus species, L. iners has more complex nutritional requirements and a Gram-variable morphology. L. iners has an unusually small genome (ca. 1 Mbp), indicative of a symbiotic or parasitic lifestyle, in contrast to other lactobacilli that show niche flexibility and genomes of up to 3–4 Mbp. The presence of specific L. iners genes, such as those encoding iron–sulfur proteins and unique σ-factors, reflects a high degree of niche specification. The genome of L. iners strains also encodes inerolysin, a pore-forming toxin related to vaginolysin of Gardnerella vaginalis. Possibly, this organism may have clonal variants that in some cases promote a healthy vagina, and in other cases are associated with dysbiosis and disease. Future research should examine this friend or foe relationship with the host.