Prevotella-Introduction, Morphology, Pathogenicity, Lab Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, and Keynotes


Prevotella is a genus of Gram-negative, anaerobic bacteria commonly found in the human oral and gut microbiota. These bacteria have been the focus of numerous studies due to their association with both health and disease in humans. Here’s a brief introduction:

  1. Morphology and Classification: Prevotella belongs to the Bacteroidetes phylum. They are rod-shaped and can sometimes be pleomorphic.
  2. Habitat: Prevotella species are part of the normal flora in various human body sites, especially the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and vagina. They thrive in anaerobic environments where oxygen is limited or absent.
  3. Role in Health:
    • Digestion: Some species of Prevotella are believed to be beneficial in fermenting complex polysaccharides, producing short-chain fatty acids like acetate, propionate, and butyrate, which can serve as an energy source for the host.
    • Microbiome Balance: Their presence can impact the overall composition and health of the microbial community.
  4. Association with Diseases:
    • Oral Diseases: Some Prevotella species are implicated in periodontal diseases such as periodontitis.
    • Other Infections: They can be a part of mixed anaerobic infections, like in cases of aspiration pneumonia, pelvic inflammatory disease, and brain abscesses, among others.
    • Gut Health: Changes in Prevotella abundance in the gut have been linked to conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and can also influence the efficacy of certain dietary interventions.
  5. Research Interest:
    • Diet and Microbiome: Prevotella-dominant gut profiles are sometimes associated with plant-rich diets, though this is a topic of ongoing research.
    • Disease Markers: Some studies have looked into the role of Prevotella as potential markers for disease susceptibility or as indicators of health status.
  6. Treatment and Resistance: Prevotella, like many other bacteria, can exhibit resistance to certain antibiotics, which can make treatment of infections challenging. The choice of antibiotic often depends on the site of the infection and the specific species involved.


The morphology of bacteria in the genus Prevotella can be described as follows:

  1. Cell Shape: Prevotella species are generally rod-shaped, although they can sometimes exhibit a pleomorphic appearance, meaning their shape can vary.
  2. Gram Stain: They are Gram-negative bacteria. This means that they do not retain the crystal violet stain used in the Gram staining procedure and instead take on the color of the counterstain, which is typically pink or red.
  3. Cell Arrangement: They are typically found as individual cells, but they can also form small chains or clusters.
  4. Spore Formation: Prevotella species are non-spore-forming.
  5. Flagella: They are non-motile, so they do not have flagella.
  6. Oxygen Tolerance: They are anaerobic, meaning they thrive in environments where oxygen is limited or absent.
  7. Capsule: Some Prevotella species can produce a polysaccharide capsule, which can help protect the bacteria from host defenses and contribute to virulence.


Prevotella species are part of the normal microbiota of the human body, particularly in the oral cavity, gastrointestinal tract, and genital tract. While they generally exist as commensals without causing harm, under certain circumstances, they can become pathogenic. Here are some aspects of the pathogenicity of them:

  1. Oral Infections:
    • Periodontal Disease: Prevotella intermedia and Prevotella nigrescens, among others, have been linked to periodontal diseases like periodontitis. These bacteria can produce enzymes that degrade tissue, leading to gum inflammation and destruction.
    • Abscesses: Prevotella species can contribute to the formation of dental abscesses, particularly in the context of mixed bacterial infections.
  2. Respiratory Infections:
    • They can be involved in aspiration pneumonia, particularly when oral or gastric contents are aspirated into the lungs. Their presence can signify a polymicrobial infection.
  3. Gastrointestinal Infections:
    • While typically commensals in the gut, they can be involved in intra-abdominal infections, especially if there’s a breach in the gut wall.
  4. Genital Tract Infections:
    • Prevotella bivia and other species can be associated with bacterial vaginosis and pelvic inflammatory disease. They might play a role in endometritis and other obstetric and gynecological infections.
  5. Other Infections:
    • Prevotella species can be involved in a variety of other infections, including brain abscesses, osteomyelitis, and skin and soft tissue infections, often as part of a mixed infection with other bacteria.
  6. Virulence Factors:
    • Enzyme Production: Prevotella can produce a range of enzymes, including proteases and collagenases, that can break down host tissues.
    • Endotoxin Production: Being Gram-negative bacteria, they produce lipopolysaccharide (LPS), which can act as an endotoxin and trigger inflammation.
    • Polysaccharide Capsules: Some Prevotella strains can produce capsules, which can shield them from the host’s immune response.
  7. Antibiotic Resistance:
    • Prevotella species, especially those isolated from clinical infections, can exhibit resistance to certain antibiotics. This resistance can make the treatment of Prevotella-associated infections challenging.

Lab Diagnosis

The laboratory diagnosis of Prevotella species from clinical specimens involves a combination of culture techniques, morphological examination, biochemical testing, and, in some cases, molecular methods. Here’s a step-by-step overview of the lab diagnosis:

  1. Specimen Collection:
    • It’s crucial to collect the appropriate clinical specimen, such as pus from an abscess, blood for bacteremia, or a vaginal swab for suspected genital tract infections.
    • The specimen should be collected anaerobically or transferred to an anaerobic transport medium if there’s a delay in processing, given that Prevotella is anaerobic.
  2. Culture:
    • Specimens are inoculated onto anaerobic-specific culture media, like Bacteroides Bile Esculin (BBE) agar or Brucella blood agar supplemented with vitamin K and hemin.
    • The plates are incubated in an anaerobic environment using anaerobic chambers or gas-generating kits. Growth usually occurs within 48-72 hours, but prolonged incubation might be needed for some slow-growing species.
    • Prevotella colonies are typically small, opaque, and can produce a brown-black pigment on BBE agar due to esculin hydrolysis.
  3. Microscopy:
    • Gram staining can help identify the Gram-negative rod morphology of Prevotella. However, precise identification cannot rely solely on microscopy.
  4. Biochemical Testing:
    • Various biochemical tests can differentiate Prevotella from other anaerobes. For instance, Prevotella is typically indole-positive. Commercially available rapid identification panels/systems, such as the API 20A, can also be used.
  5. Molecular Methods:
    • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) targeting specific genes or 16S rRNA sequencing can be employed for definitive identification, especially if conventional methods are inconclusive.
    • These methods are particularly useful for species-level identification and for detecting antibiotic resistance genes.
  6. Antibiotic Susceptibility Testing:
    • If Prevotella is identified from a clinically significant site, it may be necessary to perform antibiotic susceptibility testing to guide therapy, especially given the rising resistance among anaerobes.
    • This is typically done using the broth microdilution method or E-test strips, but guidelines provided by the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI) or the European Committee on Antimicrobial Susceptibility Testing (EUCAST) should be followed.
  7. Other Tests:
    • Some labs might utilize mass spectrometry, like Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionization Time of Flight (MALDI-TOF), for rapid identification.
  8. Limitations:
    • It’s essential to understand that Prevotella can be a part of the normal microbiota. Therefore, its presence, especially in non-sterile sites, does not always indicate infection. Clinical correlation is always necessary.


The treatment of infections caused by Prevotella primarily involves antibiotics, but the choice of antibiotic depends on the site of infection, the severity of the infection, potential resistance patterns, and patient-specific factors. Here’s a general guideline:

  1. First-line Antibiotics:
    • Metronidazole: This is a commonly prescribed antibiotic for anaerobic infections, including those caused by Prevotella. It’s effective and can be administered orally or intravenously.
    • Beta-lactam/Beta-lactamase Inhibitor Combinations: Examples include amoxicillin-clavulanate (Augmentin) and piperacillin-tazobactam (Zosyn). These are effective against many Prevotella species.
    • Carbapenems: Drugs like imipenem, meropenem, and ertapenem have excellent activity against anaerobes, including Prevotella.
  2. Alternative Antibiotics:
    • Clindamycin: Another option for treating anaerobic infections. However, resistance rates to clindamycin have been rising among Prevotella species, so susceptibility testing is crucial.
    • Tetracyclines: Like doxycycline, can also be effective.
    • Cefoxitin: A second-generation cephalosporin that has good activity against anaerobes.
    • Moxifloxacin: A fluoroquinolone with anaerobic coverage, can be an option in some cases.
  3. Resistance Concerns:
    • Resistance to certain antibiotics, especially clindamycin, has been observed in Prevotella species.
    • It’s crucial to perform susceptibility testing, especially for severe or persistent infections, to guide appropriate antibiotic therapy.
  4. Surgical Intervention:
    • In certain situations, especially with abscess formation or where there’s a collection of pus, surgical drainage or intervention might be necessary in conjunction with antibiotic therapy.
  5. Duration of Treatment:
    • The duration of antibiotic treatment depends on the infection’s location and severity. For instance, simple infections might require a shorter duration (e.g., 7-10 days), while deeper, more severe infections (like intra-abdominal abscesses or osteomyelitis) might need prolonged treatment (several weeks).
  6. Supportive Care:
    • Depending on the infection’s severity and location, patients may require additional supportive measures, including pain management, fluids, and other treatments.
  7. Follow-up:
    • Monitoring the response to treatment is essential. If a patient does not improve as expected, re-evaluation, including further diagnostic tests, might be necessary.


Preventing infections caused by Prevotella primarily involves measures that minimize disruption to the normal body microbiota and prevent situations where these bacteria can access typically sterile sites or where they can outgrow and cause disease. Here are some general preventive strategies:

  1. Oral Hygiene:
    • Maintaining good oral hygiene is crucial since many Prevotella species inhabit the oral cavity. Regular tooth brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups can help prevent periodontal diseases and dental abscesses caused by these bacteria.
  2. Proper Wound Care:
    • If you have a wound or surgical site, keep it clean and dry. Follow any care instructions given by healthcare providers.
    • For puncture wounds, especially from human bites, seek medical attention promptly as these can become infected with oral bacteria, including Prevotella.
  3. Barrier Methods during Intercourse:
    • Using barrier methods like condoms during sexual activity can reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections, including bacterial vaginosis, in which Prevotella can be implicated.
  4. Antibiotic Stewardship:
    • Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a doctor and always complete the full course unless advised otherwise. Avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use can help maintain a healthy balance of the normal microbiota and reduce the risk of overgrowth by potentially pathogenic bacteria.
  5. Healthcare Procedures:
    • Ensure that any invasive procedure is done under sterile conditions. For surgeries or procedures where there’s a risk of introducing bacteria into typically sterile sites, prophylactic antibiotics may be administered.
  6. Healthy Lifestyle:
    • Maintaining a balanced diet and general good health can support a balanced gut microbiome, possibly reducing the risk of Prevotella overgrowth or dysbiosis.
    • Avoid smoking. Smoking is associated with a higher risk of periodontal disease, where Prevotella can play a role.
  7. Hospital Settings:
    • If in a healthcare setting, ensure that proper infection control practices are observed. This includes hand hygiene protocols for healthcare workers.
  8. Awareness:
    • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of infections, especially after surgeries, dental procedures, or injuries, and seek medical attention if needed.


Here are keynotes on Prevotella:

  1. General:
    • It is a genus of Gram-negative, anaerobic bacteria.
    • Commonly found in the human oral and gut microbiota, as well as the genital tract.
  2. Morphology:
    • Typically rod-shaped, sometimes pleomorphic.
    • Non-motile and non-spore-forming.
  3. Role in Health:
    • Part of the normal human microbiota.
    • Can ferment complex polysaccharides, producing beneficial short-chain fatty acids.
    • Influences the overall microbiome balance.
  4. Pathogenicity:
    • Implicated in periodontal diseases like periodontitis.
    • Involved in mixed anaerobic infections such as aspiration pneumonia, pelvic inflammatory disease, brain abscesses, and more.
    • Can contribute to bacterial vaginosis.
    • Produces virulence factors like enzymes (proteases, collagenases) and endotoxins.
  5. Lab Diagnosis:
    • Culture on anaerobic-specific media.
    • Gram staining reveals Gram-negative rods.
    • Biochemical tests and molecular methods like PCR can further identify the species.
  6. Treatment:
    • Antibiotics such as metronidazole, beta-lactam/beta-lactamase inhibitor combinations, and carbapenems are commonly used.
    • Antibiotic resistance, particularly to clindamycin, is a concern.
    • In some cases, surgical intervention may be needed.
  7. Prevention:
    • Emphasis on good oral hygiene.
    • Proper wound care.
    • Use of barrier methods during intercourse.
    • Antibiotic stewardship to maintain a balanced microbiota.
    • Awareness of infection signs, especially after invasive procedures.
  8. Research Interest:
    • Potential associations with dietary patterns.
    • Role in health and disease conditions, including gut health.

Further Readings

  1. Reviews:
    • “The role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health” – A broad review that delves into the importance of gut bacteria, including Prevotella, in health and disease.
    • “Diet, gut microbiota, and human health beyond simple models: lessons from wild populations” – This article sheds light on the relationship between diet, Prevotella, and other gut microbiota.
  2. Scientific Articles:
    • “Dynamics and Stabilization of the Human Gut Microbiome during the First Year of Life” – This study investigates the development of the gut microbiome, including the role of Prevotella.
    • “Bacterial vaginosis-associated bacteria in men: association of Leptotrichia and Prevotella species with nongonococcal urethritis” – A focused article on Prevotella’s role in genital infections.
  3. Books:
    • “The Human Microbiota: How Microbial Communities Affect Health and Disease” by David N. Fredricks – This book provides a comprehensive look at the human microbiota, including the role of Prevotella.
  4. Websites:
    • The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) has a wealth of information on various microbes, including Prevotella, and their roles in human health.
    • The MicrobeWiki page on Prevotella offers a more digestible summary suitable for those new to microbiology.
  5. Databases:
    • NCBI’s PubMed is a valuable resource for accessing countless scientific articles. Simply search for “Prevotella” to find relevant articles and studies.
    • The Integrated Microbial Genomes & Microbiomes (IMG/M) system provides tools for analyzing the functional capability of microbial communities based on their metagenome sequence, including data on Prevotella.
  6. Specialized Journals:
    • Journals like “Anaerobe” and “Gut Microbes” regularly publish articles on anaerobic bacteria and the microbiome, which would include discussions on Prevotella.

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