The sputum microbiome and clinical outcomes in patients with bronchiectasis: a prospective observational study

Alison J. Dicker, Mike Lonergan, Holly R. Keir, Alexandria H. Smith, Jennifer Pollock, Simon Finch, Andrew J. Cassidy, Jeffrey T. J. Huang, James D. Chalmers (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Infection is a key component of bronchiectasis pathophysiology. Characterisation of the microbiome offers a higher degree of sensitivity and resolution than does traditional culture methods. We aimed to evaluate the role of the microbiome in determining the risk of exacerbation and long-term outcomes, including all-cause mortality, in bronchiectasis.

Methods: We did a prospective observational cohort study of patients with bronchiectasis from eastern Scotland. Patients were enrolled from Sept 11, 2012, to Dec 21, 2015, and followed until Jan 8, 2019, for long-term outcomes. Patients were included if they were aged 18 years or older, and had a high-resolution CT-confirmed diagnosis of bronchiectasis and clinical symptoms consistent with the disease. Sputum samples were obtained when patients were clinically stable. Repeat sputum samples were taken at stable and exacerbation visits during follow-up. The V3-V4 region of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene was sequenced using the Illumina MiSeq platform. The dominant bacterial genus in each sample was assigned on the basis of a previously published method. Microbiome characteristics were analysed for their association with measures of clinical disease severity and long-term outcomes using PERMANOVA, random forest, and survival analyses.

Findings: Sequencing data were obtained from the sputum samples of 281 patients with bronchiectasis who were included in the stable baseline cohort. 49 (17%) of 281 patients provided more than one sample when clinically stable and were included in the longitudinal analysis. 64 (23%) patients provided both stable and exacerbation samples. In both stable bronchiectasis and during exacerbations, a sputum microbiome dominated by Proteobacteria and Firmicutes was observed. Individual patients' microbiome profiles were relatively stable over time, during exacerbations and at disease stability. Lower microbiome diversity, measured using the Shannon-Wiener diversity index, was associated with more severe bronchiectasis defined by the bronchiectasis severity index, lower FEV1, and more severe symptoms. Random forest analysis of baseline samples identified Pseudomonas, Enterobacteriaceae, and Stenotrophomonas as being associated with severe bronchiectasis (bronchiectasis severity index ≥9) and greater lung inflammation and Pseudomonas and Enterobacteriaceae with more frequent exacerbations. Patients in whom Pseudomonas was dominant (n=35) were at increased risk of all-cause mortality (hazard ratio 3·12, 95% CI 1·33-7·36; p=0·0091) and had more frequent exacerbations (incident rate ratio 1·69, 95% CI 1·07-2·67; p=0·024) during follow-up compared with patients with other dominant genera (n=246).

Interpretation: A reduction in microbiome diversity, particularly one associated with dominance of Pseudomonas, is associated with greater disease severity, higher frequency and severity of exacerbations, and higher risk of mortality. The microbiome might therefore identify subgroups of patients at increased risk of poor outcomes who could benefit from precision treatment strategies. Further research is required to identify the mechanisms of reduced microbiome diversity and to establish whether the microbiome can be therapeutically targeted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)885-896
Number of pages12
JournalThe Lancet Respiratory Medicine
Issue number8
Early online date4 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • Aged
  • Bronchiectasis/microbiology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Microbiota
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sputum/microbiology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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