Hum Reprod Update 2018 07;24(4):393-415
Department of Laboratory Medicine, Laboratory of Medical Immunology, Radboud University Medical Center, Geert Grooteplein 10, PO Box 9101, Internal mail 469, 6500 HB Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
Background: Fertility depends on a receptive state of the endometrium, influenced by hormonal and anatomical adaptations, as well as the immune system. Local and systemic immunity is greatly influenced by microbiota. Recent discoveries of 16S rRNA in the endometrium and the ability to detect low-biomass microbiota fueled the notion that the uterus may be indeed a non-sterile compartment. To date, the concept of the 'sterile womb' focuses on in utero effects of microbiota on offspring and neonatal immunity. However, little awareness has been raised regarding the importance of uterine microbiota for endometrial physiology in reproductive health; manifested in fertility and placentation.
Objective And Rationale: Commensal colonization of the uterus has been widely discussed in the literature. The objective of this review is to outline the possible importance of this uterine colonization for a healthy, fertile uterus. We present the available evidence regarding uterine microbiota, focusing on recent findings based on 16S rRNA, and depict the possible importance of uterine colonization for a receptive endometrium. We highlight a possible role of uterine microbiota for host immunity and tissue adaptation, as well as conferring protection against pathogens. Based on knowledge of the interaction of the mucosal immune cells of the gut with the local microbiome, we want to investigate the potential implications of commensal colonization for uterine health.
Search Methods: PubMed and Google Scholar were searched for articles in English indexed from 1 January 2008 to 1 March 2018 for '16S rRNA', 'uterus' and related search terms to assess available evidence on uterine microbiome analysis. A manual search of the references within the resulting articles was performed. To investigate possible functional contributions of uterine microbiota to health, studies on microbiota of other body sites were additionally assessed.
Outcomes: Challenging the view of a sterile uterus is in its infancy and, to date, no conclusions on a 'core uterine microbiome' can be drawn. Nevertheless, evidence for certain microbiota and/or associated compounds in the uterus accumulates. The presence of microbiota or their constituent molecules, such as polysaccharide A of the Bacteroides fragilis capsule, go together with healthy physiological function. Lessons learned from the gut microbiome suggest that the microbiota of the uterus may potentially modulate immune cell subsets needed for implantation and have implications for tissue morphology. Microbiota can also be crucial in protection against uterine infections by defending their niche and competing with pathogens. Our review highlights the need for well-designed studies on a 'baseline' microbial state of the uterus representing the optimal starting point for implantation and subsequent placenta formation.
Wider Implications: The complex interplay of processes and cells involved in healthy pregnancy is still poorly understood. The correct receptive endometrial state, including the local immune environment, is crucial not only for fertility but also placenta formation since initiation of placentation highly depends on interaction with immune cells. Implantation failure, recurrent pregnancy loss, and other pathologies of endometrium and placenta, such as pre-eclampsia, represent an increasing societal burden. More robust studies are needed to investigate uterine colonization. Based on current data, future research needs to include the uterine microbiome as a relevant factor in order to understand the players needed for healthy pregnancy.