Puberty is an important developmental stage wherein hormonal shifts mediate the physical and physiological changes that lead to menarche, but until now, the bacterial composition of vaginal microbiota during this period has been poorly characterized. We performed a prospective longitudinal study of perimenarcheal girls to gain insight into the timing and sequence of changes that occur in the vaginal and vulvar microbiota during puberty. The study enrolled 31 healthy, premenarcheal girls between the ages of 10 and 12 years and collected vaginal and vulvar swabs quarterly for up to 3 years. Bacterial composition was characterized by Roche 454 pyrosequencing and classification of regions V1 to V3 of 16S rRNA genes. Contrary to expectations, lactic acid bacteria, primarily Lactobacillus spp., were dominant in the microbiota of most girls well before the onset of menarche in the early to middle stages of puberty. Gardnerella vaginalis was detected at appreciable levels in approximately one-third of subjects, a notable finding considering that this organism is commonly associated with bacterial vaginosis in adults. Vulvar microbiota closely resembled vaginal microbiota but often exhibited additional taxa typically associated with skin microbiota. Our findings suggest that the vaginal microbiota of girls begin to resemble those of adults well before the onset of menarche.
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