Research Article: Bacterial communities found in placental tissues are associated with severe chorioamnionitis and adverse birth outcomes

Date Published: July 12, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Ronan M. Doyle, Kathryn Harris, Steve Kamiza, Ulla Harjunmaa, Ulla Ashorn, Minyanga Nkhoma, Kathryn G. Dewey, Kenneth Maleta, Per Ashorn, Nigel Klein, Jefferson Terry.


Preterm birth is a major cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity worldwide. Bacterial infection and the subsequent inflammatory response are recognised as an important cause of preterm birth. It is hypothesised that these organisms ascend the cervical canal, colonise placental tissues, cause chorioamnionitis and in severe cases infect amniotic fluid and the foetus. However, the presence of bacteria within the intrauterine cavity does not always precede chorioamnionitis or preterm birth. Whereas previous studies observing the types of bacteria present have been limited in size and the specificity of a few predetermined organisms, in this study we characterised bacteria found in placental tissues from a cohort of 1391 women in rural Malawi using 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing. We found that specific bacteria found concurrently on placental tissues associate with chorioamnionitis and delivery of a smaller newborn. Severe chorioamnionitis was associated with a distinct difference in community members, a higher bacterial load and lower species richness. Furthermore, Sneathia sanguinengens and Peptostreptococcus anaerobius found in both matched participant vaginal and placental samples were associated with a lower newborn length-for-age Z-score. This is the largest study to date to examine the placental microbiome and its impact of birth outcomes. Our results provide data on the role of the vaginal microbiome as a source of placental infection as well as the possibility of therapeutic interventions against targeted organisms during pregnancy.

Partial Text

Preterm birth is the largest cause of neonatal deaths in the world [1]. Death rates are particularly high in developing countries. Compared with other regions, sub-Saharan Africa has had consistently higher incidence of preterm deliveries [2] with recent estimates of between 10.0% [3] and 16.3% [4] of all births in Malawi. Even in the developed world, incidences of preterm birth are increasing and it remains the major cause of perinatal mortality [2]. Of the children who survive extreme prematurity (less than 26 weeks), 19% will develop severe disability [5].

This is the largest study to date of placental microbiota with over 1000 individuals with tissue available. We detected bacterial DNA in more than 50% of placental tissues and the core microbiome was distinct from the oral and vaginal microbiome. The structures of these placental microbial communities were altered in individuals with severe chorioamnionitis. These altered taxa were predominantly sourced from the vagina and were associated with adverse birth outcomes.




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