Each year, there are an estimated 15 million spontaneous preterm births (PTB). Preterm birth is the leading cause of death in infants under 5.

But no single cause of preterm birth has been previously identified. Bacterial infections are a known risk factor - but what about the role of the microbial communities present in the vaginal microbiome? Do they play a role in increasing the risk of preterm birth?

Now a new small study by Feehily C et al., (2020) seems to have identified microbial signatures in the vaginal microbiome associated with preterm and full-term births

The study:

Feehily and colleagues used shotgun metagenomic sequencing to compare the microbial communities present in the vaginal microbiomes of 35 pregnant women at "high-risk" of preterm birth.

They compared these to 14 vaginal microbiomes in a "low-risk" control group.

The results:

  • Microbial diversity and richness did not differ between groups
  • But there were significant differences in terms of individual species - in particular, Lactobacillus crispatus was associated with samples from a full-term pregnancy
  • One community state-type was associated with samples from preterm pregnancies.
  • And also - "by predicting gene functions, the functional potential" of the preterm microbial communities was different from those of the full-term microbial communities
  • Taken together, the scientists "observed a discrete structural and functional difference in the microbial composition of the vagina in women who deliver preterm"

The conclusion:

To quote from the abstract: "We confirm that Lactobacillus crispatus is strongly linked to full-term pregnancies, whereas other microbial communities associate with preterm birth"

What does this all mean?

More research is needed to find out about functions and what we can do to reduce the risk of preterm birth.

But from this small study, it does seem that a vaginal microbiota dominated by lactobacilli (particularly Lactobacillus crispatus) is associated more with vaginal health and increased likelihood of full term birth.

What do you think?

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Science reference

Feehily, C., Crosby, D., Walsh, C.J. et al. Shotgun sequencing of the vaginal microbiome reveals both a species and functional potential signature of preterm birth. npj Biofilms Microbiomes6, 50 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41522-020-00162-8

Shotgun sequencing of the vaginal microbiome reveals both a species and functional potential signature of preterm birth | npj Biofilms and Microbiomes

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