Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Upper Airway Microbiome Is Associated with Select Clinical Characteristics


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an inflammatory lung disorder associated with lung microbiome dysbiosis. Although the upper airway microbiome is the source of the lung microbiome, the relationships between the oral, nasal, and sputum microbiota are incompletely understood. Our objective was to determine features that differentiate the oral, nasal, and sputum microbiome among subjects with stable COPD.


We recruited 15 current or former smokers to provide oral and sputum samples on day 1. On day 2, another oral sample and a nasal sample were obtained. Each sample and control underwent DNA extraction, 16S V4 rRNA amplification, 16S V4 sequencing, and qPCR of 16S rRNA. Data were analyzed using dada2 and R.


Most (14 of 15) subjects were male with a mean age of 65.2. One subject had no pulmonary obstruction, while 5 had mild COPD, 7 had moderate COPD, and 2 had severe COPD. Three subjects (20%) were current tobacco users and 2 subjects (13%) used inhaled corticosteroids (ICS). Subjects had a mean of 49.1 pack-years of tobacco exposure. Bacterial biomass was associated with anatomic site, but no differences in biomass were observed with age, FEV1 percent predicted (FEV1pp), ICS use, smoking status, or edentulous state. Shannon index was associated with site (lower nasal diversity than oral and sputum diversity, p<0.001), but not age, ICS use, FEV1pp, tobacco use, or edentulous state. β-diversity was illustrated by principal coordinate analysis using Bray-Curtis dissimilarity and PERMANOVA analyses, showing sample clustering by anatomic site (p = 0.001) with nasal samples forming a cluster separate from the combined oral wash samples and sputum samples. Clustering was also observed with ICS use (p = 0.029) and edentulous state (p = 0.019), while FEV1pp and current tobacco use were not significant. In an amplicon sequencing variant (ASV)-level analysis of oral samples using a linear regression model with Benjamini-Hochberg correction at an FDR<0.10, 10 ASVs were associated with age while no ASVs were associated with FEV1pp or smoking status. Sputum sample analysis demonstrated that 51 ASVs (25 unique genera) were associated with age, 61 ASVs (32 genera) were associated with FEV1pp, and no ASVs were associated with smoking status. In a combined dataset, the frequent exacerbator phenotype, rather than ICS use, was associated with decreased sputum Shannon diversity.


Among the upper airway microbiota of COPD subjects, anatomic site was associated with bacterial biomass, Shannon diversity, and β-diversity. ICS use and edentulous state were both associated with β-diversity. Age was associated with taxa relative abundance in oral and sputum samples, while FEV1pp was associated with taxa relative abundance in sputum samples only.