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1.  Systemic inflammation in the extremely low gestational age newborn following maternal genitourinary infections 
Gestational genitourinary infections are associated with life-long disabilities, but it is unknown if neonatal inflammation is involved.
Mothers of 914 infants born before 28th gestation week reported cervical/vaginal infection (CVI), and/or urine/bladder/kidney infection (UTI), or neither. Inflammation proteins measured in baby’s blood on postnatal days 1, 7 and 14 were considered elevated if in the top quartile for gestational age. Logistic regression models adjusting for potential confounders assessed odds ratios.
Compared to neither UTI/CVI, mothers with CVI were more likely to have infants with elevated CRP, SAA, MPO, IL-1β, IL-6, IL-6R, TNF-α, RANTES, ICAM-3, E-selectin and VEGF-R2 on day 1; those with UTI were more likely to have infants with elevated MPO, IL-6R, TNF-R1, TNF-R2, and RANTES on day 7. Placental anaerobes and genital micoplasma were more common in pregnancies with CVI.
Gestational UTI/CVI should be targeted for preventing systemic inflammation in the very preterm newborn.
PMCID: PMC4293273  PMID: 25164433
cervicitis; vaginitis; cytokines; acute phase proteins; preterm birth; placental microbiome
2.  Gene Expression Profiling of Human Vaginal Cells In Vitro Discriminates Compounds with Pro-Inflammatory and Mucosa-Altering Properties: Novel Biomarkers for Preclinical Testing of HIV Microbicide Candidates 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(6):e0128557.
Inflammation and immune activation of the cervicovaginal mucosa are considered factors that increase susceptibility to HIV infection. Therefore, it is essential to screen candidate anti-HIV microbicides for potential mucosal immunomodulatory/inflammatory effects prior to further clinical development. The goal of this study was to develop an in vitro method for preclinical evaluation of the inflammatory potential of new candidate microbicides using a microarray gene expression profiling strategy.
To this end, we compared transcriptomes of human vaginal cells (Vk2/E6E7) treated with well-characterized pro-inflammatory (PIC) and non-inflammatory (NIC) compounds. PICs included compounds with different mechanisms of action. Gene expression was analyzed using Affymetrix U133 Plus 2 arrays. Data processing was performed using GeneSpring 11.5 (Agilent Technologies, Santa Clara, CA).
Microarraray comparative analysis allowed us to generate a panel of 20 genes that were consistently deregulated by PICs compared to NICs, thus distinguishing between these two groups. Functional analysis mapped 14 of these genes to immune and inflammatory responses. This was confirmed by the fact that PICs induced NFkB pathway activation in Vk2 cells. By testing microbicide candidates previously characterized in clinical trials we demonstrated that the selected PIC-associated genes properly identified compounds with mucosa-altering effects. The discriminatory power of these genes was further demonstrated after culturing vaginal cells with vaginal bacteria. Prevotella bivia, prevalent bacteria in the disturbed microbiota of bacterial vaginosis, induced strong upregulation of seven selected PIC-associated genes, while a commensal Lactobacillus gasseri associated to vaginal health did not cause any changes.
In vitro evaluation of the immunoinflammatory potential of microbicides using the PIC-associated genes defined in this study could help in the initial screening of candidates prior to entering clinical trials. Additional characterization of these genes can provide further insight into the cervicovaginal immunoinflammatory and mucosal-altering processes that facilitate or limit HIV transmission with implications for the design of prevention strategies.
PMCID: PMC4459878  PMID: 26052926
3.  Elevated Urinary iFABP Predicts Necrotizing Enterocolitis within Seven Days Prior to Clinical Onset 
The Journal of pediatrics  2014;164(6):1486-1488.
Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), characterized by sudden onset and rapid progression, remains the most significant gastrointestinal disorder among premature infants. In seeking a predictive biomarker, we found intestinal fatty acid binding protein, an indicator of enterocyte damage, was substantially increased within three and seven days before the diagnosis of NEC.
PMCID: PMC4120986  PMID: 24636854
4.  Puerperal Mastitis: a Reproductive Event of Importance Affecting Anti-Mucin Antibody Levels and Ovarian Cancer Risk 
Cancer causes & control : CCC  2013;24(11):1911-1923.
Test the hypothesis that puerperal mastitis may alter immunity related to the mucin (MUC) family of glycoproteins and lower risk for ovarian cancer.
In two case-control studies conducted in New England between 1998–2008, we examined the association between self-reported mastitis and ovarian cancer in 1,483 women with epithelial ovarian cancer and 1,578 controls. IgG1 antibodies against (MUC1) CA15.3 and (MUC16) CA125 were measured using electrochemiluminescence assays in a subset of controls (n=200). Preoperative CA125 was recorded in 649 cases. The association between ovarian cancer and mastitis was assessed using unconditional logistic regression to calculate adjusted odds ratios, OR, and 95% confidence intervals (CI). Associations between mastitis and anti-CA15.3 and anti-CA125 antibodies and preoperative CA125 levels were evaluated using adjusted linear regression models.
Prior mastitis was associated with a significantly lower risk for ovarian cancer: OR (and 95% CI) of 0.67 (0.48, 0.94) adjusted for parity, breastfeeding, and other potential confounders. The association was strongest with 2 or more episodes of mastitis; and risk declined progressively with increasing number of children and episodes of mastitis. Among controls, prior mastitis was associated with significantly higher anti-CA15.3 and anti-CA125 antibody levels and, among cases, with significantly lower preoperative CA125 levels.
Puerperal that mastitis may produce long-lasting anti-mucin antibodies that may lower the risk for ovarian cancer, plausibly through enhanced immune surveillance. Studying immune reactions related to MUC1 and MUC16 in the 10–20% of breastfeeding women who develop mastitis may suggest ways to duplicate its effects through vaccines based on both antigens.
PMCID: PMC3805704  PMID: 23925696
CA125; CA15.3; Ovarian Cancer; Puerperal Mastitis
5.  Homeostatic properties of Lactobacillus jensenii engineered as a live vaginal anti-HIV microbicide 
BMC Microbiology  2013;13:4.
Vaginal probiotics are investigated as a binary strategy for prevention of bacterial vaginosis and HIV. We applied an innovative experimental model using primary and immortalized human cervical and vaginal epithelial cells to assess the functional properties of Lactobacillus jensenii, a predominant constituent of the healthy vaginal microbiome, engineered to express the HIV-1 entry inhibitor modified cyanovirin-N (mCV-N). In this model bacteria colonize the epithelial cells over a period of 24-72 h. Staurosporine and the Toll-like receptor 2/6 ligand macrophage-activating lipopeptide-2 (MALP-2) serve as positive controls for apoptosis and proinflammatory activation, respectively. In 24-hour intervals, the colonized epithelium is assessed microscopically, supernatants are collected for measurement of soluble immunoinflammatory mediators and production of CV-N, and cells are lysed for assessment of: 1) apoptosis by cleaved versus total caspase-3 assay; 2) NF-κB activation by a luciferase reporter assay; or 3) epithelia-associated colony forming units (CFU) in Brucella agar.
Wild type (WT) L. jensenii 1153 consistently colonized cervical and vaginal cells in the absence of epithelial damage and apoptosis. The bioengineered derivatives expressing mCV-N or control plasmids showed the same stable colonization pattern, which was reproducible between technologists and bacterial batches (CFU coefficient of variation <10% within and between experiments and epithelial cell types). MALP-2 activated NF-κB and caused fold-increased levels of proinflammatory mediators with clinically established significance in the cervicovaginal environment (IL-1α, IL-1β, IL-6, TNF-α, IL-8, RANTES, MIP-3α, and ICAM-1), measured by a multiplex electrochemiluminescence assay. At the same time levels of protective anti-inflammatory mediators interleukin 1 receptor antagonist (IL-1RA) and secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor (SLPI), both measured by ELISA, remained constant (IL-1RA) or moderately increased (SLPI). Similarly to MALP-2, colonization by L. jensenii WT activated NF-κB; however, unlike the synthetic TLR2/6 ligand, the live microorganisms did not induce significant changes in the secreted levels across all inflammation-associated proteins. The mCV-N production and function were confirmed by western blot and a HIV-1 gp120 binding assay, respectively. The bioengineered lactobacilli expressed mCV-N with anti-HIV activity preserved in the epithelial cell context and caused no significant immunoinflammatory changes as compared to the WT L. jensenii.
These results highlight the translational value of the colonization model and justify further clinical investigation of the homeostatic and anti-HIV effectiveness of the L. jensenii derivates.
PMCID: PMC3605260  PMID: 23298379
6.  Relationships among the concentrations of 25 inflammation-associated proteins during the first postnatal weeks in the blood of infants born before the 28th week of gestation 
Cytokine  2011;57(1):182-190.
Inflammation appears to be involved in processes leading to organ damage in preterm newborns, yet little is known about the relationships among elevated concentrations of inflammation-associated proteins in the blood of preterm newborns.
In this exploratory study, we used an electrochemiluminescence method to measure 25 proteins in blood obtained on postnatal day 1 (range 1–3), day 7 (range 5–8), and day 14 (range 12–15) from 939 children born before the 28th week of gestation and evaluated to what extent those whose concentration of each protein was elevated (defined as in the highest quartile for gestational age and day the specimen was obtained) also had an elevated concentration of every other protein the same day or on a day 1 or 2 weeks later (p < .0001).
On each of the 3 days assessed, elevated concentrations of 17 proteins were associated with elevated concentrations of 15 or more of the other 24 proteins. VEGF, VEGF-R1, VEGF-R2 were among these proteins, while IGFBP-1 was associated with 13 other proteins on day 7. An elevated concentration of 8 proteins on day 1 predicted an elevated concentration of 10 or more proteins on day 7, while an elevated concentration of only two proteins on day 7 were associated with elevated concentrations of 10 or more proteins on day-14. Few associations were seen between day 1 and day 14.
Inflammation is a diffuse process in ELGANs, with elevated concentrations of cytokines, chemokines, adhesion molecules, matrix metalloproteinases, a growth factor and its receptors, as well as a growth factor binding protein associated with each other the same day, as well as on subsequent days.
PMCID: PMC3246087  PMID: 22133344
Preterm newborn; Inflammation; Biomarkers
7.  Endobiont Viruses Sensed by the Human Host – Beyond Conventional Antiparasitic Therapy 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e48418.
Wide-spread protozoan parasites carry endosymbiotic dsRNA viruses with uncharted implications to the human host. Among them, Trichomonas vaginalis, a parasite adapted to the human genitourinary tract, infects globally ∼250 million each year rendering them more susceptible to devastating pregnancy complications (especially preterm birth), HIV infection and HPV-related cancer. While first-line antibiotic treatment (metronidazole) commonly kills the protozoan pathogen, it fails to improve reproductive outcome. We show that endosymbiotic Trichomonasvirus, highly prevalent in T. vaginalis clinical isolates, is sensed by the human epithelial cells via Toll-like receptor 3, triggering Interferon Regulating Factor -3, interferon type I and proinflammatory cascades previously implicated in preterm birth and HIV-1 susceptibility. Metronidazole treatment amplified these proinflammatory responses. Thus, a new paradigm targeting the protozoan viruses along with the protozoan host may prevent trichomoniasis-attributable inflammatory sequelae.
PMCID: PMC3492353  PMID: 23144878
8.  Novel Vaginal Microflora Colonization Model Providing New Insight into Microbicide Mechanism of Action 
mBio  2011;2(6):e00168-11.
Several broad-spectrum microbicides, including cellulose sulfate (CS), have passed conventional preclinical and phase I clinical safety evaluation and yet have failed to protect women from acquiring HIV-1 in phase II/III trials. Concerns have been raised that current preclinical algorithms are deficient in addressing the complexity of the microflora-regulated vaginal mucosal barrier. We applied a novel microflora-colonized model to evaluate CS and hydroxyethylcellulose (HEC), which is used as a “universal placebo” in microbicide trials. Cervicovaginal epithelial cultures were colonized with normal vaginal microflora isolates representing common Lactobacillus species used as probiotics (L. acidophilus and L. crispatus) or Prevotella bivia and Atopobium vaginae, most prevalent in the disturbed microflora of bacterial vaginosis (BV). At baseline, all strains maintained constant epithelium-associated CFUs without inducing cytotoxicity and apoptosis. CS selectively reduced epithelium-associated CFUs and (to a lesser extent) planktonic CFUs, most significantly affecting L. crispatus. Inducing only minor changes in sterile epithelial cultures, CS induced expression of innate immunity mediators (RANTES, interleukin-8 [IL-8], and secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor [SLPI]) in microflora-colonized epithelia, most significantly potentiating effects of bacteria causing BV. In the absence of CS, all bacterial strains except L. acidophilus activated NF-κB, although IL-8 and RANTES levels were increased by the presence of BV-causing bacteria only. CS enhanced NF-κB activation in a dose-dependent manner under all conditions, including L. acidophilus colonization. HEC remained inert. These results offer insights into possible mechanisms of CS clinical failure. The bacterially colonized cervicovaginal model reveals unique aspects of microflora-epithelium-drug interactions and innate immunity in the female genital tract and should become an integral part of preclinical safety evaluation of anti-HIV microbicides and other vaginal formulations.
This report provides experimental evidence supporting the concept that the vaginal microflora regulates the epithelial innate immunity in a species- and strain-specific manner and that topically applied microbicides may alter both the bacterial and epithelial components of this homeostatic interaction. Our data also highlight the importance of differentiating the effects of biomedical interventions on epithelium-associated versus conventional planktonic bacterial growth when assessing vaginal mucosal health and immunity.
PMCID: PMC3202752  PMID: 22027006
10.  Maternal Microbe-Specific Modulation of Inflammatory Response in Extremely Low-Gestational-Age Newborns 
mBio  2011;2(1):e00280-10.
The fetal response to intrauterine inflammatory stimuli appears to contribute to the onset of preterm labor as well as fetal injury, especially affecting newborns of extremely low gestational age. To investigate the role of placental colonization by specific groups of microorganisms in the development of inflammatory responses present at birth, we analyzed 25 protein biomarkers in dry blood spots obtained from 527 newborns delivered by Caesarean section in the 23rd to 27th gestation weeks. Bacteria were detected in placentas and characterized by culture techniques. Odds ratios for having protein concentrations in the top quartile for gestation age for individual and groups of microorganisms were calculated. Mixed bacterial vaginosis (BV) organisms were associated with a proinflammatory pattern similar to those of infectious facultative anaerobes. Prevotella and Gardnerella species, anaerobic streptococci, peptostreptococci, and genital mycoplasmas each appeared to be associated with a different pattern of elevated blood levels of inflammation-related proteins. Lactobacillus was associated with low odds of an inflammatory response. This study provides evidence that microorganisms colonizing the placenta provoke distinctive newborn inflammatory responses and that Lactobacillus may suppress these responses.
Despite improved intensive care, preterm and especially extremely low-gestation-age neonates continue to be at a considerably increased risk of morbidity, mortality, and developmental problems. The fetal inflammatory response appears to contribute to the onset of preterm labor, fetal injury, and complications, underlying lifetime health challenges facing these children. This study provides evidence that bacterial colonization of the very preterm placenta is associated with distinct microorganism-specific inflammatory protein profiles in the newborn blood specimens. We also provide evidence that Lactobacillus reduces inflammatory responses in newborns. Our data support the concept that targeting of placental colonization by specific drugs or probiotics during early pregnancy holds promise for preventing not only preterm birth but also subsequent and long-lasting, inflammation-provoked late sequelae.
PMCID: PMC3025357  PMID: 21264056
11.  The Villain Team-Up or how Trichomonas vaginalis and bacterial vaginosis alter innate immunity in concert 
Sexually Transmitted Infections  2013;89(6):460-466.
Complex interactions of vaginal microorganisms with the genital tract epithelium shape mucosal innate immunity, which holds the key to sexual and reproductive health. Bacterial vaginosis (BV), a microbiome-disturbance syndrome prevalent in reproductive-age women, occurs commonly in concert with trichomoniasis, and both are associated with increased risk of adverse reproductive outcomes and viral infections, largely attributable to inflammation. To investigate the causative relationships among inflammation, BV and trichomoniasis, we established a model of human cervicovaginal epithelial cells colonised by vaginal Lactobacillus isolates, dominant in healthy women, and common BV species (Atopobium vaginae, Gardnerella vaginalis and Prevotella bivia).
Colonised epithelia were infected with Trichomonas vaginalis (TV) or exposed to purified TV virulence factors (membrane lipophosphoglycan (LPG), its ceramide-phosphoinositol-glycan core (CPI-GC) or the endosymbiont Trichomonas vaginalis virus (TVV)), followed by assessment of bacterial colony-forming units, the mucosal anti-inflammatory microbicide secretory leucocyte protease inhibitor (SLPI), and chemokines that drive pro-inflammatory, antigen-presenting and T cells.
TV reduced colonisation by Lactobacillus but not by BV species, which were found inside epithelial cells. TV increased interleukin (IL)-8 and suppressed SLPI, likely via LPG/CPI-GC, and upregulated IL-8 and RANTES, likely via TVV as suggested by use of purified pathogenic determinants. BV species A vaginae and G vaginalis induced IL-8 and RANTES, and also amplified the pro-inflammatory responses to both LPG/CPI-GC and TVV, whereas P bivia suppressed the TV/TVV-induced chemokines.
These molecular host–parasite–endosymbiont–bacteria interactions explain epidemiological associations and suggest a revised paradigm for restoring vaginal immunity and preventing BV/TV-attributable inflammatory sequelae in women.
PMCID: PMC3746192  PMID: 23903808

Results 1-11 (11)