Study suggests penile microbiome can transmit bacterial vaginosis by sexual intercourse

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a microbiome-based disease characterized by a lack of Lactobacillus in the vagina.  We have covered this disease with multiple blog posts and encourage any interested readers to search for these blogs to learn more.  One outstanding question regarding BV is how sexual intercourse affects the disease.  One prevailing thought is that the penis can actually be colonized by BV-associated bacteria, and that through sexual intercourse it can be spread between partners.  A new paper published last week in mBio suggests this is true.

The researchers measured the penile microbiomes of 165 uncircumcised, black men from Uganda, as well as diagnosing BV status in their female partners.  The BV status was measured by Nugent score, which is a bacterial staining technique that basically measures the amount of anaerobic bacteria in the vagina (non-Lactobacilli).  The stain produces a score between 1-7 with 1 being healthiest and 7 being least healthy (mostly anaerobic bacteria).  After measuring the penile microbiomes, the scientists were able to be categorize them into 7 different community state types (CST1-7).  These community state types varied from 1 to 7 in terms of both overall abundance and composition, with CST1 having the lowest density of bacteria and the lowest diversity while CST7 had the highest density and the highest diversity of bacteria.

The scientists compared the female partner’s BV status with the men’s community state type, and noted that having a CST1-7 on the penile microbiome corresponded with a higher likelihood of the female partner being diagnosed with BV.  Two genera of bacteria, Corynebacterium and Staphylococcus, on the penile microbiome were associated with healthy vaginal flora, whereas Dialister, Mobiluncus, Prevotella, and Porphyromonas were associated with BV.  Interestingly penises that included Lactobacillus and Gardnerella, genera associated with healthy vaginas and BV vaginas, respectively, were not statistically associated with BV status.  Overall, men with CST4-7 were significantly more likely to have a sexual partner with BV, and had more BV associated bacteria colonizing their penises.  In addition, men with more than one sexual partner were more likely to have CST4-7, and again, their partners more likely to have BV.

It appears that men’s penises, especially uncircumcised ones, can be vectors for bacterial transmission.  This simple fact should make us reconsider BV as an STD, and actually fits in well with another that has shown promiscuity is a risk for BV.  It is likely that circumcision and condom would decrease BV transmission rate, as they do other STDs, but until a paper comes out that studies this connection no one can say for sure.

Please email blog@MicrobiomeInstitute.org for any comments, news, or ideas for new blog posts.

The views expressed in the blog are solely those of the author of the blog and not necessarily the American Microbiome Institute or any of our scientists, sponsors, donors, or affiliates.

The oral microbiome of periodontitis patients has distinct profiles dependent on disease severity

A few weeks ago we discussed periodontitis, a bacterial infection of the gums that leads to inflammation and deep pockets to develop in which harmful bacteria can colonize. Periodontitis develops in association with dramatic changes in the makeup of the oral microbiome. Smokers and diabetics are more frequently victims of the disease. The study we discussed previously was one performed by researchers in Istanbul, Turkey in which they tested whether a probiotic lozenge could improve the patients’ condition. In a different, more recently published study concerning periodontitis, researchers in Connecticut and Massachusetts looked not to change the oral microbiome of patients suffering from periodontitis, but to organize and identify the microbial characteristics of the disease.

In the study published in Plos One, seventeen subjects, 8 of whom were diabetic, with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and seventeen subjects without CKD, 3 of whom were diabetic, were studied.  All 34 subjects suffered from periodontitis. Samples were taken from each participant, from the deepest pockets in two different areas of the mouth. DNA was then isolated and sequenced to identify microbial communities in each individual. After much statistical analysis, the researchers found that the microbial communities tended toward two clusters, A and B, with type B communities correlating with more severe periodontitis. Group A subjects had communities with greater health-associated bacteria and cluster B communities were dominated by Porphyromonas gingivalis and Tannerella forsythia. Additionally, the analysis showed that diabetes and CKD are not correlated with a certain periodontitis microbial makeup.

A set-back of this experiment is the low sample size, which makes for less meaningful statistical analysis. Greater sample sizes of each cluster could give stronger claim to the findings of this study. However, this study does begin to clarify the bacterial community characterization of healthy, unhealthy, and severely unhealthy oral microbiomes. In addition, the results from this study could be used to ask further questions about the disease, including questions such as: what environmental factors cause the difference in clusters A and B? Do inflammatory diseases such as CKD and diabetes have anything to do with the severity of inflammatory response of periodontitis? Further analysis may allow us to answer these tough questions.

Please email blog@MicrobiomeInstitute.org for any comments, news, or ideas for new blog posts.

The views expressed in the blog are solely those of the author of the blog and not necessarily the American Microbiome Institute or any of our scientists, sponsors, donors, or affiliates.