Background Bacterial vaginosis (BV) causes genital inflammation and increases HIV risk, whereas 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 reduction is driven by a decrease in BV-associated bacteria or an increase in Lactobacillus species.METHODS To evaluate the short-term effect 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 PCR.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 to 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 after BV treatment were not directly attributable to an absolute increase in lactobacilli, but rather to the loss of BV-associated bacteria.Trial REGISTRATION Participants were recruited as part of a randomized controlled trial (ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02766023) from 2016 to 2019.FUNDING Canadian Institutes of Health Research (PJT-156123) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (HHSN2722013000141 and HHSN27200007).
Eric Armstrong, Anke Hemmerling, Steve Miller, Kerianne E. Burke, Sara J. Newmann, Sheldon R. Morris, Hilary Reno, Sanja Huibner, Maria Kulikova, Rachel Liu, Emily D. Crawford, Gloria R. Castañeda, Nico Nagelkerke, Bryan Coburn, Craig R. Cohen, Rupert Kaul