Bacteria study of male adolescents reveals new insights into urinary tract health

May 14, 2012, Indiana University
J. Dennis Fortenberry. Credit: Indiana University

(Medical Xpress) -- The first study using cultivation independent sequencing of the microorganisms in the adolescent male urinary tract has revealed that the composition of microbial communities colonizing the penis in young men depends upon their circumcision status and patterns of sexual activity.

This study, published Friday in the online journal , is the first by Indiana University researchers working with a four-year, $7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's Human Microbiome Project. It is also the first to reveal that urogenital of young are surprisingly stable and that some of these are similar to species that colonize and protect healthy young women from sexually transmitted infections.

The research contradicts the accepted wisdom that pre-sexual men did not have bacteria in their urinary tracts.

"Young men had bacteria that looked similar to those of young healthy women," said David E. Nelson, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biology in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington and the principal investigator of the research. "We think that these bacteria may promote genitourinary health in men, just as they do in women. This contradicts previous dogma that only sexually transmitted pathogens colonize the male urethra."

The findings open doors for additional research that will lead to a deeper understand of men's health.

"This is the first real investigator of the normal microbiology of men before they begin ," Nelson said. "There are parallels between normal bacteria in and those in young women that are known to be protective."

This discovery was not possible before the mapping of the and the development of powerful sequencing tools, said J. Dennis Fortenberry, M.D., M.S., principal investigator of the NIH grant and professor of pediatrics in the Division of at the IU School of Medicine.

The investigators used the advanced sequencing techniques to evaluate bacteria on the head of the penis as well as in the urethra in 18 adolescents younger than 18 years, he said. The researchers will follow these adolescents, along with dozens of others, for several years to determine how the types and amounts of bacteria present in and on the penis changes over time.

This study reports that the types of bacteria found on the penis were different than what was found in the urethra, and the bacteria found in circumcised adolescents differed from the bacteria found in the uncircumcised adolescents. These differences may be important in understanding why circumcision helps prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in men.

They also discovered changes in the bacteria after sexual activity began.

"We have some sense that some of the bacteria in the urethra are essential to keeping men healthy," Fortenberry said. "This research and the new technology will open doors to explore what is good about the bacteria, what they do and how."

"At this point in the research, we are asking 'chicken and egg' questions," Nelson said. "What comes first, the loss of normal bacteria, making a person more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections or, do you get colonized with other bacteria for some reason and that puts a person more at risk of contracting an STI."

This research, like other longitudinal studies, should shed light on the sequence of events that leads to STIs and other diseases such as a common male condition called non-gonococcal urethritis, whose cause is unknown.

Fortenberry and Nelson said they decided that looking at the microbiome of a cohort of young, non-sexually active males was the only way to determine what bacteria was normal for men. Without that information, researchers can't determine the difference between healthy and unhealthy bacteria and know how to treat disease.

Explore further: Circumcision may help protect against prostate cancer

Related Stories

Circumcision may help protect against prostate cancer

March 12, 2012
A new analysis led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has found that circumcision before a male's first sexual intercourse may help protect against prostate cancer. Published early online in Cancer, ...

Male circumcision lowers prevalence of penile precancerous lesions among African men

July 28, 2011
A University of North Carolina-led international study shows that among Kenyan men, circumcision is associated with a lower prevalence of human papillomavirus-associated precancerous lesions of the penis. Human papillomavirus ...

Study links empathy, self-esteem, and autonomy with increased sexual enjoyment

June 3, 2011
Sexual pleasure among young adults (ages 18-26) is linked to healthy psychological and social development, according to a new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study is the ...

Recommended for you

Phone-addicted teens are unhappy, study finds

January 22, 2018
Happiness is not a warm phone, according to a new study exploring the link between adolescent life satisfaction and screen time. Teens whose eyes are habitually glued to their smartphones are markedly unhappier, said study ...

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

NeuroNext biomarker study explores natural history of infantile-onset SMA

January 9, 2018
Research led by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to define the natural history of infantile-onset spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) has been "critical" to accelerate the development of effective therapies and hasten ...

No link between childhood lead levels, later criminality

December 27, 2017
(HealthDay)— Exposure to higher levels of lead during early childhood can affect neurological development—but does that mean affected kids are doomed to delinquency?

Early puberty in girls may take mental health toll

December 26, 2017
(HealthDay)—A girl who gets her first menstrual period early in life—possibly as young as 7—has a greater risk for developing depression and antisocial behaviors that last at least into her 20s, a new study suggests.

Technology not taking over children's lives despite screen-time increase

December 21, 2017
With children spending increasing amounts of time on screen-based devices, there is a common perception that technology is taking over their lives, to the detriment and exclusion of other activities. However, new Oxford University ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.