Looking Beyond Respiratory Cultures: Microbiome-Cytokine Signatures of Bacterial Pneumonia and Tracheobronchitis in Lung Transplant Recipients

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Bacterial pneumonia and tracheobronchitis are diagnosed frequently following lung transplantation. The diseases share clinical signs of inflammation and are often difficult to differentiate based on culture results. Microbiome and host immune-response signatures that distinguish between pneumonia and tracheobronchitis are undefined. Using a retrospective study design, we selected 49 bronchoalveolar lavage fluid samples from 16 lung transplant recipients associated with pneumonia (n = 8), tracheobronchitis (n = 12) or colonization without respiratory infection (n = 29). We ensured an even distribution of Pseudomonas aeruginosa or Staphylococcus aureus culture-positive samples across the groups. Bayesian regression analysis identified non–culture-based signatures comprising 16S ribosomal RNA microbiome profiles, cytokine levels and clinical variables that characterized the three diagnoses. Relative to samples associated with colonization, those from pneumonia had significantly lower microbial diversity, decreased levels of several bacterial genera and prominent multifunctional cytokine responses. In contrast, tracheobronchitis was characterized by high microbial diversity and multifunctional cytokine responses that differed from those of pneumonia-colonization comparisons. The dissimilar microbiomes and cytokine responses underlying bacterial pneumonia and tracheobronchitis following lung transplantation suggest that the diseases result from different pathogenic processes. Microbiomes and cytokine responses had complementary features, suggesting that they are closely interconnected in the pathogenesis of both diseases.

Using state-of-the-art Bayesian modeling, this study identifies microbiome and cytokine signatures that distinguish bacterial pneumonia and tracheobronchitis from colonization within bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from lung transplant recipients.

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