The upper respiratory tract as a microbial source for pulmonary infections in cystic fibrosis. Parallels from island biogeography

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2014 Jun 1;189(11):1309-15. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201312-2129PP.


A continuously mixed series of microbial communities inhabits various points of the respiratory tract, with community composition determined by distance from colonization sources, colonization rates, and extinction rates. Ecology and evolution theory developed in the context of biogeography is relevant to clinical microbiology and could reframe the interpretation of recent studies comparing communities from lung explant samples, sputum samples, and oropharyngeal swabs. We propose an island biogeography model of the microbial communities inhabiting different niches in human airways. Island biogeography as applied to communities separated by time and space is a useful parallel for exploring microbial colonization of healthy and diseased lungs, with the potential to inform our understanding of microbial community dynamics and the relevance of microbes detected in different sample types. In this perspective, we focus on the intermixed microbial communities inhabiting different regions of the airways of patients with cystic fibrosis.

MeSH terms

  • Cystic Fibrosis / complications*
  • Humans
  • Larynx / microbiology
  • Oropharynx / microbiology
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / etiology*
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / microbiology
  • Respiratory System / microbiology*
  • Trachea / microbiology