Identification and evaluation of the microbiome in the female and male reproductive tracts

Rivka Koedooder, Shari Mackens, Andries Budding, Damiat Fares, Christophe Blockeel, Joop Laven, Sam Schoenmakers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: The existence of an extensive microbiome in and on the human body has increasingly dominated the scientific literature during the last decade. A shift from culture-dependent to culture-independent identification of microbes has occurred since the emergence of next-generation sequencing (NGS) techniques, whole genome shotgun and metagenomic sequencing. These sequencing analyses have revealed the presence of a rich diversity of microbes in most exposed surfaces of the human body, such as throughout the reproductive tract. The results of microbiota analyses are influenced by the technical specifications of the applied methods of analyses. Therefore, it is difficult to correctly compare and interpret the results of different studies of the same anatomical niche. OBJECTIVES AND RATIONALE: The aim of this narrative review is to provide an overview of the currently used techniques and the reported microbiota compositions in the different anatomical parts of the female and male reproductive tracts since the introduction of NGS in 2005. This is crucial to understand and determine the interactions and roles of the different microbes necessary for successful reproduction. SEARCH METHODS: A search in Embase, Medline Ovid, Web of science, Cochrane and Google scholar was conducted. The search was limited to English language and studies published between January 2005 and April 2018. Included articles needed to be original microbiome research related to the reproductive tracts. OUTCOMES: The review provides an extensive up-to-date overview of current microbiome research in the field of human reproductive medicine. The possibility of drawing general conclusions is limited due to diversity in the execution of analytical steps in microbiome research, such as local protocols, sampling methods, primers used, sequencing techniques and bioinformatic pipelines, making it difficult to compare and interpret results of the available studies. Although some microbiota are associated with reproductive success and a good pregnancy outcome, it is still unknown whether a causal link exists. More research is needed to further explore the possible clinical implications and therapeutic interventions. WIDER IMPLICATIONS: For the field of reproductive medicine, determination of what is a favourable reproductive tract microbiome will provide insight into the mechanisms of both unsuccessful and successful human reproduction. To increase pregnancy chances with live birth and to reduce reproduction-related health costs, future research could focus on postponing treatment or conception in case of the presence of unfavourable microbiota and on the development of therapeutic interventions, such as microbial therapeutics and lifestyle adaptations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-325
Number of pages28
JournalHuman Reproduction Update
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019
Externally publishedYes

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