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Trimethylamine content in vaginal secretion and its relation to bacterial vaginosis


  • Received May 30, 2002.

    Accepted September 19, 2002.

Urban Forsum, Dept. of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, Division of Clinical Microbiology, Linköping University, 581 85 Linköping, Sweden. e-mail:


The presence of a fishy odor emanating from women who present with a malodorous vaginal discharge is well known. The odor is due to bacterial reduction of trimethylamine oxide to trimethylamine (TMA) in vaginal secretion. The release of TMA from specimens of vaginal fluid following the addition of alkali is often used in making a clinical diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis (BV). We now report a sensitive gas chromatographic method for analysis and quantification of TMA in vaginal fluid in which weighed samples were used. In addition, a proper diagnosis of BV was obtained using Gram-stained smears of the vaginal fluid according to the method of Nugent et al. (R. P. Nugent et al., J Clin Microbiol 1991;29:297–301). We also diagnosed BV according to Hallén et al. (A. Hallén et al. Genitourin Med 1987;63:386–9). TMA was present in all women with a Nugent score between 7 and 10 and in almost all women diagnosed with BV according to the method of Hallén et al. TMA was not found or was only found in very low concentrations in vaginal fluid from women with Nugent scores of 0 to 3. TMA was also found in four women with a negative sniff test. It seems that high levels of TMA in samples of vaginal fluid are typical for BV regardless of the scoring method used for diagnosis. However, low levels of TMA, <5 μg/g vaginal fluid, do not always correlate with BV.

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