Metronidazole treatment rapidly reduces genital inflammation through effects on bacterial vaginosis-associated bacteria rather than lactobacilli

BACKGROUND. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) causes genital inflammation and increases HIV risk, while a vaginal microbiota dominated by Lactobacillus species is associated with immune quiescence and relative HIV protection. BV treatment reduces genital inflammation, but it is unclear whether this is driven by a decrease in BV-associated bacteria or an increase in Lactobacillus.


METHODS. To evaluate the short-term impact of standard BV treatment on genital immunology and the vaginal microbiota, vaginal swabs were collected immediately before and after metronidazole treatment for BV and analyzed with multiplex ELISA, metagenomic sequencing, and quantitative polymerase chain reaction.


RESULTS. Topical metronidazole treatment rapidly reduced vaginal levels of proinflammatory cytokines, chemokines, and soluble immune markers of epithelial barrier disruption. Although the vaginal microbiota shifted to dominance by L. iners or L. jensenii, this proportional shift was primarily driven by a 2-4 log10 fold reduction in BV-associated bacteria absolute abundance; BV treatment induced no change in the absolute abundance of L. crispatus or L. iners, and only minor (<1 log10 fold) increases in L. gasseri and L. jensenii that were not independently associated with reduced inflammation in multivariable models.


CONCLUSION. The genital immune benefits that are associated with Lactobacillus dominance following BV treatment were not directly attributable to an absolute increase in lactobacilli, but rather to the loss of BV-associated bacteria.


TRAIL REGISTRATION. Participants were recruited as part of a randomized controlled trial (NCT02766023) from 2016 to 2020.



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Published: 3 Feb 2022

JCL The Journal of Clinical Investigation;