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Bacterial biogeography of adult airways in atopic asthma



Perturbations to the composition and function of bronchial bacterial communities appear to contribute to the pathophysiology of asthma. Unraveling the nature and mechanisms of these complex associations will require large longitudinal studies, for which bronchoscopy is poorly suited. Studies of samples obtained by sputum induction and nasopharyngeal brushing or lavage have also reported asthma-associated microbiota characteristics. It remains unknown, however, whether the microbiota detected in these less-invasive sample types reflect the composition of bronchial microbiota in asthma.


Bacterial microbiota in paired protected bronchial brushings (BB; n = 45), induced sputum (IS; n = 45), oral wash (OW; n = 45), and nasal brushings (NB; n = 27) from adults with mild atopic asthma (AA), atopy without asthma (ANA), and healthy controls (HC) were profiled using 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Though microbiota composition varied with sample type (p < 0.001), compositional similarity was greatest for BB-IS, particularly in AAs and ANAs. The abundance of genera detected in BB correlated with those detected in IS and OW (r median [IQR] 0.869 [0.748-0.942] and 0.822 [0.687-0.909] respectively), but not with those in NB (r = 0.004 [- 0.003-0.011]). The number of taxa shared between IS-BB and NB-BB was greater in AAs than in HCs (p < 0.05) and included taxa previously associated with asthma. Of the genera abundant in NB, only Moraxella correlated positively with abundance in BB; specific members of this genus were shared between the two compartments only in AAs. Relative abundance of Moraxella in NB of AAs correlated negatively with that of Corynebacterium but positively with markers of eosinophilic inflammation in the blood and BAL fluid. The genus, Corynebacterium, trended to dominate all NB samples of HCs but only half of AAs (p = 0.07), in whom abundance of this genus was negatively associated with markers of eosinophilic inflammation.


Induced sputum is superior to nasal brush or oral wash for assessing bronchial microbiota composition in asthmatic adults. Although compositionally similar to the bronchial microbiota, the microbiota in induced sputum are distinct, reflecting enrichment of oral bacteria. Specific bacterial genera are shared between the nasal and the bronchial mucosa which are associated with markers of systemic and bronchial inflammation.

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