Background: There is emerging evidence for the presence of an extensive microbiota in human lungs. It is not known whether variations in the prevalence of species of microbiota in the lungs may have aetiological significance in respiratory conditions such as asthma. The aim of the study was to undertake semi-quantitative analysis of the differences in fungal species in pooled sputum samples from asthma patients and controls.
Methods: Induced sputum samples were collected in a case control study of asthma patients and control subjects drawn from the community in Wandsworth, London. Samples from both groups were pooled and then tested for eukaryotes. DNA was amplified using standard PCR techniques, followed by pyrosequencing and comparison of reads to databases of known sequences to determine in a semi-quantitative way the percentage of DNA from known species in each of the two pooled samples.
Results: A total of 136 fungal species were identified in the induced sputum samples, with 90 species more common in asthma patients and 46 species more common in control subjects. Psathyrella candolleana, Malassezia pachydermatis, Termitomyces clypeatus and Grifola sordulenta showed a higher percentage of reads in the sputum of asthma patients and Eremothecium sinecaudum, Systenostrema alba, Cladosporium cladosporioides and Vanderwaltozyma polyspora showed a higher percentage of reads in the sputum of control subjects. A statistically significant difference in the pattern of fungi that were present in the respective samples was demonstrated using the Phylogenetic (P) test (P < 0.0001).
Conclusion: This study is novel in providing evidence for the widespread nature of fungi in the sputum of healthy and asthmatic individuals. Differences in the pattern of fungi present in asthma patients and controls merit further investigation. Of particular interest was the presence of Malassezia pachydermatis, which is known to be associated with atopic dermatitis.