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Emmanuel Amabebe and Dilly O Anumba

Altered gut microbiota (dysbiosis), inflammation and weight gain are pivotal to the success of normal pregnancy. These are features of metabolic syndrome that ordinarily increase the risk of type 2 diabetes in non-pregnant individuals. Though gut microbiota influences host energy metabolism and homeostasis, the outcome (healthy or unhealthy) varies depending on pregnancy status. In a healthy pregnancy, the gut microbiota is altered to promote metabolic and immunological changes beneficial to the mother and foetus but could connote a disease state in non-pregnant individuals. During the later stages of gestation, metabolic syndrome-like features, that is, obesity-related gut dysbiotic microbiota, increased insulin resistance, and elevated pro-inflammatory cytokines, promote energy storage in adipose tissue for rapid foetal growth and development, and in preparation for energy-consuming processes such as parturition and lactation. The origin of this gestation-associated host–microbial interaction is still elusive. Therefore, this review critically examined the host–microbial interactions in the gastrointestinal tract of pregnant women at late gestation (third trimester) that shift host metabolism in favour of a diabetogenic or metabolic syndrome-like phenotype. Whether the diabetogenic effects of such interactions are indeed beneficial to both mother and foetus was also discussed with plausible mechanistic pathways and associations highlighted.

Lay summary

In non-pregnant women, increased blood glucose, fat accumulation, and prolonged immune response lead to obesity and diabetes. However, during the later stages of pregnancy, the changes in the body’s metabolism described previously do not lead to disease, instead pregnancy facilitates the storage of sufficient energy in fat cells for rapid growth and development of the foetus. The excess energy stores also prepares the mother for labour and breastfeeding. This review examines the role of the normal bacteria in the digestive tract in this beneficial energy accumulation and transfer between the mother and foetus without leading to obesity, diabetes and hypertension in pregnancy.

Emmanuel Amabebe, Henry Ogidi, and Dilly O Anumba

Graphical abstract

Abstract

The phenomenal extracellular matrix (ECM) remodelling of the cervix that precedes the myometrial contraction of labour at term or preterm appears to share some common mechanisms with the occurrence, growth, invasion and metastasis of cervical carcinoma. Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are zinc-dependent endopeptidases that are pivotal to the complex extracellular tissue modulation that includes degradation, remodelling and exchange of ECM components, which contribute to homeostasis under normal physiological conditions such as cervical remodelling during pregnancy and puerperium. However, in cancer such as that of the uterine cervix, this extensive network of extracellular tissue modulation is altered leading to disrupted cell–cell and cell–basement membrane adhesion, abnormal tissue growth, neovascularization and metastasis that disrupt homeostasis. Cervical ECM remodelling during pregnancy and puerperium could be a physiological albeit benign neoplasm. In this review, we examined the pathophysiologic differences and similarities in the role of MMPs in cervical remodelling and cervical carcinoma.

Lay summary

During pregnancy and childbirth, the cervix, which is the barrel-shaped lower portion of the womb that connects to the vagina, gradually softens, shortens and opens to allow birth of the baby. This process requires structural and biochemical changes in the cervix that are stimulated by enzymes known as matrix metalloproteinases. Interestingly, these enzymes also affect the structural and biochemical framework of the cervix during cervical cancer, although cervical cancers usually occur after infection by human papillomavirus. This review is intended to identify and explain the similarities and differences between the structural and chemical changes in the cervix during pregnancy and childbirth and the changes seen in cervical cancer.

Emmanuel Amabebe, Steven Reynolds, and Dilly O C Anumba

Lay summary

Health-promoting bacteria (lactobacilli) exist in harmony with the vaginal environment. They are the predominant vaginal bacterial species during pregnancy. However, the possibility of infection and inappropriate immune response are linked with unprompted preterm delivery (PTD). Other invasive lactobacilli can alter the chemical environment of the vagina as they seek to promote their growth. This study measured the change in concentration of biochemical compounds and predominant bacterial species in vaginal fluid that are linked to PTD. The study recruited 300 healthy pregnant women who provided vaginal fluid samples during the second trimester. The women who harboured more of Lactobacillus jensenii over Lactobacillus crispatus (both reported as health-promoting bacteria) in their vaginal fluid had less lactate and glutamate and experienced more PTD. This suggests that lactate and glutamate levels in vaginal fluid may have clinical application in identifying which Lactobacillus species is most active. These chemical biomarkers could provide quick and accurate prediction of PTD risk in clinical settings.

Emmanuel Amabebe, Noopur Bhatnagar, Nitin Kamble, Steven Reynolds, and Dilly O Anumba

Lay summary

The need to develop new treatments to prevent unprompted premature delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy remains pressing and unmet. Bacteria (Lactobacillus species) that promote vaginal health produce biochemical compounds that prevent the growth of microbes such as Gardnerella vaginalis. Overgrowth of G. vaginalis can cause vaginal infection with smelly discharge and increase a woman’s risk of sexually transmitted infections and premature delivery. In this study, we examined how normal health-promoting (L. crispatus) and potentially harmful (G. vaginalis) vaginal bacteria interact in a laboratory setting. This was in order to observe natural and effective agent(s) from L. crispatus that can hinder the growth of G. vaginalis and accompanying immune response. We observed that L. crispatus clears G. vaginalis by itself and with several biochemical compounds that it produces. Such biochemical compounds can be developed into treatment for vaginal infections and premature delivery due to infection and inappropriate immune response.