Directly sampling the lung of a young child with cystic fibrosis reveals diverse microbiota

Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2014 Sep;11(7):1049-55. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.201311-383OC.


Rationale: The airways of people with cystic fibrosis (CF) are chronically infected with a variety of bacterial species. Although routine culture methods are usually used to diagnose these infections, culture-independent, DNA-based methods have identified many bacterial species in CF respiratory secretions that are not routinely cultured. Many prior culture-independent studies focused either on microbiota in explanted CF lungs, reflecting end-stage disease, or those in oropharyngeal swabs, which likely sample areas in addition to the lower airways. Therefore, it was unknown whether the lower airways of children with CF, well before end-stage but with symptomatic lung disease, truly contained diverse microbiota.

Objectives: To define the microbiota in the diseased lung tissue of a child who underwent lobectomy for severe, localized CF lung disease.

Methods: After pathologic examination verified that this child's lung tissue reflected CF lung disease, we used bacterial ribosomal RNA gene pyrosequencing and computational phylogenetic analysis to identify the microbiota in serial sections of the tissue.

Measurements and main results: This analysis identified diverse, and anatomically heterogeneous, bacterial populations in the lung tissue that contained both culturable and nonculturable species, including abundant Haemophilus, Ralstonia, and Propionibacterium species. Routine clinical cultures identified only Staphylococcus aureus, which represented only a small fraction of the microbiota found by sequencing. Microbiota analysis of an intraoperative oropharyngeal swab identified predominantly Streptococcus species. The oropharyngeal findings therefore represented the lung tissue microbiota poorly, in agreement with findings from earlier studies of oropharyngeal swabs in end-stage disease.

Conclusions: These results support the concept that diverse and spatially heterogeneous microbiota, not necessarily dominated by "traditional CF pathogens," are present in the airways of young, symptomatic children with early CF lung disease.

Keywords: cystic fibrosis; infection; lobectomy; microbiota.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bronchitis / diagnostic imaging
  • Bronchitis / microbiology*
  • Bronchitis / physiopathology
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid / microbiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cystic Fibrosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Cystic Fibrosis / microbiology*
  • Cystic Fibrosis / surgery*
  • DNA, Bacterial / analysis
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lung / microbiology*
  • Microbiota*
  • Pneumonectomy / methods
  • Radiography, Thoracic / methods
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Tissue Culture Techniques
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods
  • Treatment Outcome


  • DNA, Bacterial