Characterization of the Ovine Vaginal Microbiome and Inflammation Patterns as an Improved Testing Model of Human Vaginal Irritation

Richard B. Pyles, Aaron L. Miller, Carrie Maxwell, Lauren Dawson, Nicola Richardson-Harman, Glenn Swartz, Cynthia O'Neill, Cattlena Walker, Gregg N. Milligan, Timothy Madsen, Massoud Motamedi, Gracie Vargas, Kathleen L. Vincent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The development of therapies targeted to improve the health of women has utilized direct vaginal delivery as a more effective and less toxic method of protection from HIV and other pathogens. Vaginal applicants and delivery devices that provide sustained effects have been met with increasing acceptability, but the efficacy and toxicity outcomes have not been successfully predicted by preclinical in vitro studies and animal modeling. We have explored the utilization of sheep as a model for testing the safety of vaginal applicants and devices based on spatial and structural similarities to the human vagina. As recently noted by the FDA, an additional safety measure is an impact on the vaginal microbiome (VMB) that is known to contribute to vaginal health and influence pathogen susceptibility and drug metabolism. To advance the utility of the sheep vaginal model, we completed a thorough molecular characterization of the ovine VMB utilizing both next-generation sequencing (NGS) and PCR methods. The process also created a custom PCR array to quantify ovine VMB community profiles in an affordable, higher throughput fashion. The results from vaginal swabs (>475 samples) collected from non-pregnant crossbred Dorset and Merino ewes treated with selected vaginal applicants or collected as sham samples established 16 VMB community types (VMB CTs). To associate VMB CTs with eubiosis or dysbiosis, we also completed custom ELISAs for six cytokines identifying IL1B, IL8, TNFa, and CXCL10 as useful markers to support the characterization of ovine vaginal inflammation. The results indicated that Pasteurella, Actinobacillus, Pseudomonas, Bacteroides, Leptotrichia, and E. coli were common markers of eubiosis (low inflammatory marker expression), and that Haemophilus, Ureaplasma, and Corynebacterium were associated with dysbiosis (high cytokine levels). Utilizing the optimized workflow, we also confirmed the utility of three commonly used vaginal applicants for impact on the VMB and inflammatory state, producing a dataset that supports the recommendation for the use of sheep for testing of vaginal applicants and devices as part of preclinical pipelines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number714829
JournalFrontiers in Reproductive Health
StatePublished - Dec 7 2021


  • cytokines
  • dysbiosis
  • inflammation
  • intravaginal drug delivery
  • ovine sheep vaginal model
  • toxicity
  • vaginal microbiome
  • women's health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Family Practice


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