Host genetic factors associated with vaginal microbiome composition in kenyan women

Supriya D. Mehta, Drew R. Nannini, Fredrick Otieno, Stefan J. Green, Walter Agingu, Alan Landay, Yinan Zheng, Lifang Hou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bacterial vaginosis (BV) affects 20% of women worldwide and is associated with adverse reproductive health outcomes and increased risk for HIV. Typically, BV represents a shift in the vaginal microbiome from one that is dominated by Lactobacillus to one that is diverse. Persistent racial differences in BV and diverse vaginal microbiome composition overlap with racial disparities in risks for HIV and sexually transmitted infection, especially among women of African descent. Risk factors for BV and nonoptimal vaginal microbiome include sexual practices, yet racial differences persist when adjusted for behavioral factors, suggesting a host genetic component. Here, we perform a genome-wide association study on vaginal microbiome traits in Kenyan women. Linear regression and logistic regression were performed, adjusting for age and principal components of genetic ancestry, to evaluate the association between Lactobacillus crispatus, Lactobacillus iners, Gardnerella vaginalis, Shannon diversity index, and community state type (CST) with host genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). We identified novel genomic loci associated with the vaginal microbiome traits, though no SNP reached genome-wide significance. During pathway enrichment analysis, Toll-like receptors (TLRs), cytokine production, and other components of innate immune response were associated with L. crispatus, L. iners, and CST. Multiple previously reported genomic loci were replicated, including IL-8 (Shannon, CST), TIRAP (L. iners, Shannon), TLR2 (Shannon, CST), MBL2 (L. iners, G. vaginalis, CST), and MYD88 (L. iners, Shannon). These genetic associations suggest a role for the innate immune system and cell signaling in vaginal microbiome composition and susceptibility to nonoptimal vaginal microbiome. IMPORTANCE Globally, bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common condition in women. BV is associated with poorer reproductive health outcomes and HIV risk. Typically, BV represents a shift in the vaginal microbiome from one that is dominated by Lactobacillus to one that is diverse. Despite many women having similar exposures, the prevalence of BV and nonoptimal vaginal microbiome is increased for women of African descent, suggesting a possible role for host genetics. We conducted a genome-wide association study of important vaginal microbiome traits in Kenyan women. We identified novel genetic loci and biological pathways related to mucosal immunity, cell signaling, and infection that were associated with vaginal microbiome traits; we replicated previously reported loci associated with mucosal immune response. These results provide insight into potential host genetic influences on vaginal microbiome composition and can guide larger longitudinal studies, with genetic and functional comparison across microbiome sites within individuals and across populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere00502-20
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Community state type
  • Community state type
  • G. vaginalis
  • Gardnerella vaginalis
  • Genome wide association study
  • GWAS
  • Innate immune response
  • Kenya
  • L. crispatus
  • L. iners
  • Lactobacillus crispatus
  • Lactobacillus iners
  • Pathway analysis
  • Shannon diversity index
  • Toll-like receptors
  • Vaginal microbiome
  • Vaginal microbiota

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Computer Science Applications


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