Quantitative profiling of colorectal cancer-associated bacteria reveals associations between fusobacterium spp., enterotoxigenic Bacteroides fragilis (ETBF) and clinicopathological features of colorectal cancer

PLoS One. 2015 Mar 9;10(3):e0119462. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0119462. eCollection 2015.


Various studies have presented clinical or in vitro evidence linking bacteria to colorectal cancer, but these bacteria have not previously been concurrently quantified by qPCR in a single cohort. We quantify these bacteria (Fusobacterium spp., Streptococcus gallolyticus, Enterococcus faecalis, Enterotoxigenic Bacteroides fragilis (ETBF), Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC), and afaC- or pks-positive E. coli) in paired tumour and normal tissue samples from 55 colorectal cancer patients. We further investigate the relationship between a) the presence and b) the level of colonisation of each bacterial species with site and stage of disease, age, gender, ethnicity and MSI-status. With the exception of S. gallolyticus, we detected all bacteria profiled here in both tumour and normal samples at varying frequencies. ETBF (FDR = 0.001 and 0.002 for normal and tumour samples) and afaC-positive E. coli (FDR = 0.03, normal samples) were significantly enriched in the colon compared to the rectum. ETBF (FDR = 0.04 and 0.002 for normal and tumour samples, respectively) and Fusobacterium spp. (FDR = 0.03 tumour samples) levels were significantly higher in late stage (III/IV) colorectal cancers. Fusobacterium was by far the most common bacteria detected, occurring in 82% and 81% of paired tumour and normal samples. Fusobacterium was also the only bacterium that was significantly higher in tumour compared to normal samples (p = 6e-5). We also identified significant associations between high-level colonisation by Fusobacterium and MSI-H (FDR = 0.05), age (FDR = 0.03) or pks-positive E. coli (FDR = 0.01). Furthermore, we exclusively identified atypical EPEC in our cohort, which has not been previously reported in association with colorectal cancer. By quantifying colorectal cancer-associated bacteria across a single cohort, we uncovered inter- and intra-individual patterns of colonization not previously recognized, as well as important associations with clinicopathological features, especially in the case of Fusobacterium and ETBF.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / microbiology*
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology
  • Adult
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology*
  • Bacterial Infections / pathology
  • Bacterial Load
  • Bacteroides fragilis / genetics*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Colon / microbiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / microbiology*
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Enteropathogenic Escherichia coli / genetics
  • Female
  • Fusobacterium / genetics*
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Rectum / microbiology

Grant support

This study was supported by the Cancer Association of South Africa. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.