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PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e43009. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043009. Epub 2012 Aug 10.

Resolution and characterization of distinct cpn60-based subgroups of Gardnerella vaginalis in the vaginal microbiota.

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  • 1Department of Veterinary Microbiology, Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.


Bacterial vaginosis (BV), characterized by a shift of the vaginal microbiota from a Lactobacillus-dominated community to a dense biofilm containing a complex mixture of organisms, is an important risk factor in poor reproductive health outcomes. The Nugent score, based on Gram stain, is used to diagnose BV and Gardnerella vaginalis abundance in the sample is one factor determining Nugent score. A high Nugent score is indicative of BV but does not always correspond to the presence of clinical symptoms. G. vaginalis is recognized as a heterogeneous group of organisms, which can also be part of the normal, healthy vaginal microbiome. In addition, asymptomatic BV and non-Gardnerella types of BV are being recognized. In an attempt to resolve the heterogeneous group of G. vaginalis, a phylogenetic tree of cpn60 universal target sequences from G. vaginalis isolates was constructed that indicates the existence of four subgroups of G. vaginalis. This subdivision, supported by whole genome similarity calculation of representative strains using JSpecies, demonstrates that these subgroups may represent different species. The cpn60 subgroupings did not correspond with the Piot biotyping scheme, but did show consistency with ARDRA genotyping and sialidase gene presence. Isolates from all four subgroups produced biofilm in vitro. We also investigated the distribution of G. vaginalis subgroups in vaginal samples from Kenyan women with Nugent scores consistent with BV, Intermediate and Normal microbiota (n = 44). All subgroups of G. vaginalis were detected in these women, with a significant difference (z = -3.372, n = 39, p = 0.001) in frequency of G. vaginalis subgroup B between BV and Normal groups. Establishment of a quantifiable relationship between G. vaginalis subgroup distribution and clinical status could have significant diagnostic implications.

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