Exploring the role of bacteria in vaginal health

Certain vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV) are known to increase women’s chances of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HIV. However, we know much less about how and why BV results in increased rates of STI transmission.

A recent study found that one key explanation lies in the way the vagina changes during a BV infection. The vagina is lined by a thin layer of cells called a mucosal membrane, and they act as a wall against viral infections that seek to enter the blood stream. The study showed that a type of bacteria common in BV, Gardnerella vaginalis, makes the layer of cells weaker and incapable of healing from wounds. 

In contrast, other types of vaginal bacteria, like Lactobacillus, make the mucosal membrane more robust and capable of healing. This suggests that researchers working to prevent STI transmission may find new targets and treatments by studying wound repair, as well as the myriad other functions of vaginal bacteria—many of which remain unknown—more closely.

For more information about how this same team of UCSF researchers has begun harnessing healthy vaginal bacteria to develop an innovative new BV treatment, visit this recent news post.