Aerobic vaginitis (AV) is a complex vaginal dysbiosis that is thought to be caused by the micro-ecological change of the vaginal microbiota. While most studies have focused on how changes in the abundance of individual microbes are associated with the emergence of AV, we still do not have a complete mechanistic atlas of the microbe-AV link. Network modeling is central to understanding the structure and function of any microbial community assembly. By encapsulating the abundance of microbes as nodes and ecological interactions among microbes as edges, microbial networks can reveal how each microbe functions and how one microbe cooperate or compete with other microbes to mediate the dynamics of microbial communities. However, existing approaches can only estimate either the strength of microbe-microbe link or the direction of this link, failing to capture full topological characteristics of a network, especially from high-dimensional microbial data. We combine allometry scaling law and evolutionary game theory to derive a functional graph theory that can characterize bidirectional, signed, and weighted interaction networks from any data domain. We apply our theory to characterize the causal interdependence between microbial interactions and AV. From functional networks arising from different functional modules, we find that, as the only favorable genus from Firmicutes among all identified genera, the role of Lactobacillus in maintaining vaginal microbial symbiosis is enabled by upregulation from other microbes, rather than through any intrinsic capacity. Among Lactobacillus species, the proportion of L. crispatus to L. iners is positively associated with more healthy acid vaginal ecosystems. In a less healthy alkaline ecosystem, L. crispatus establishes a contradictory relationship with other microbes, leading to population decrease relative to L. iners. We identify topological changes of vaginal microbiota networks when the menstrual cycle of women changes from the follicular to luteal phases. Our network tool provides a mechanistic approach to disentangle the internal workings of the microbiota assembly and predict its causal relationships with human diseases including AV.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Microbiology (medical)