Introduction Dysbiotic states of the vaginal microbiota, including bacterial vaginosis (BV), are characterised by a paucity of Lactobacillus spp., the presence of an array of anaerobes, a pH >4.5, and are associated with increased susceptibility to STIs. The mechanisms by which vaginal microbiota protect or increase the risk to STIs remain unknown. By characterising the in vivo host miRNA response to different types of vaginal microbiota, we gained insight into functions that play a role in epithelial homeostasis. Understanding the molecular mechanisms driving vaginal dysbiosis may help develop strategies reduce the risk of STIs.
Methods Leveraging prospectively collected daily vaginal swab samples, miRNA-seq profiling was used to gain insight into host regulatory mechanisms controlled by vaginal microbial communities. Random Forest miRNA feature ranking was used to identify miRNAs expressed in response to different types of vaginal microbiota. In vitro, VK2 epithelial cells were exposed to vaginal bacteria culture supernatants, and miRNA expression was measured by qPCR, while cyclin D1 was measured by Western blot. Cell proliferation was quantified using scratch and EdU assays. Cell proliferation’s effect on C. trachomatis infection was performed on cervical A2EN epithelial cells.
Results We leveraged daily collected vaginal samples in conjunction with a machine learning approach to discover eight miRNAs differently controlled by vaginal microbiota. Of these, expression of miR-193b, known to regulate host cell proliferation, was increased by Lactobacillus spp.-dominated microbiota. Recently, in vitro, VK2 cells exposed to Lactobacillus-conditioned supernatants exhibited reduced proliferation, high miRNA-193b expression and decreased abundance of cyclin D1. Importantly, epithelial cell proliferation was required for efficient C. trachomatis infection.
Conclusion These findings contribute to the vaginal microbiota’s role in cellular homeostasis and susceptibility to STIs, which may lead to improved preventive strategies by modulating vaginal microbiota composition.
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