Research ArticlesLUNG PHYSIOLOGY

Quantitative Analysis of the Human Airway Microbial Ecology Reveals a Pervasive Signature for Cystic Fibrosis

Science Translational Medicine  26 Sep 2012:
Vol. 4, Issue 153, pp. 153ra130
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3004458

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Cystic fibrosis (CF) is an autosomal recessive disease caused by mutations in the gene encoding the CF transmembrane conductance regulator. Disruption of electrolyte homeostasis at mucosal surfaces leads to severe lung, pancreatic, intestinal, hepatic, and reproductive abnormalities. Loss of lung function as a result of chronic lung disease is the primary cause of death from CF. Using high-throughput sequencing to survey microbes in the sputum of 16 CF patients and 9 control individuals, we identified diverse microbial communities in the healthy samples, contravening conventional wisdom that healthy airways are not significantly colonized. Comparing these communities with those from the CF patients revealed significant differences in microbial ecology, including differential representation of uncultivated phylotypes. Despite patient-specific differences, our analysis revealed a focal microbial profile characteristic of CF. The profile differentiated case and control groups even when classically recognized CF pathogens were excluded. As a control, lung explant tissues were also processed from a group of patients with pulmonary disease. The findings in lung tissue corroborated the presence of taxa identified in the sputum samples. Comparing the sequencing results with clinical data indicated that diminished microbial diversity is associated with severity of pulmonary inflammation within our adult CF cohort.

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