There is a pressing need for modeling of the symbiotic and at times dysbiotic relationship established between bacterial microbiomes and human mucosal surfaces. In particular clinical studies have indicated that the complex vaginal microbiome (VMB) contributes to the protection against sexually-transmitted pathogens including the life-threatening human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1). The human microbiome project has substantially increased our understanding of the complex bacterial communities in the vagina however, as is the case for most microbiomes, very few of the community member species have been successfully cultivated in the laboratory limiting the types of studies that can be completed. A genetically controlled ex vivo model system is critically needed to study the complex interactions and associated molecular dialog. We present the first vaginal mucosal culture model that supports colonization by both healthy and dysbiotic VMB from vaginal swabs collected from routine gynecological patients. The immortalized vaginal epithelial cells used in the model and VMB cryopreservation methods provide the opportunity to reproducibly create replicates for lab-based evaluations of this important mucosal/bacterial community interface. The culture system also contains HIV-1 susceptible cells allowing us to study the impact of representative microbiomes on replication. Our results show that our culture system supports stable and reproducible colonization by VMB representing distinct community state types and that the selected representatives have significantly different effects on the replication of HIV-1. Further, we show the utility of the system to predict unwanted alterations in efficacy or bacterial community profiles following topical application of a front line antiretroviral.
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