The diversity and host interactions of Propionibacterium acnes bacteriophages on human skin

ISME J. 2015 Sep;9(9):2078-93. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2015.47. Epub 2015 Apr 7.


The viral population, including bacteriophages, is an important component of the human microbiota, yet is poorly understood. We aim to determine whether bacteriophages modulate the composition of the bacterial populations, thus potentially playing a role in health or disease. We investigated the diversity and host interactions of the bacteriophages of Propionibacterium acnes, a major human skin commensal implicated in acne pathogenesis. By sequencing 48 P. acnes phages isolated from acne patients and healthy individuals and by analyzing the P. acnes phage populations in healthy skin metagenomes, we revealed that P. acnes phage populations in the skin microbial community are often dominated by one strain. We also found phage strains shared among both related and unrelated individuals, suggesting that a pool of common phages exists in the human population and that transmission of phages may occur between individuals. To better understand the bacterium-phage interactions in the skin microbiota, we determined the outcomes of 74 genetically defined Propionibacterium strains challenged by 15 sequenced phages. Depending on the Propionibacterium lineage, phage infection can result in lysis, pseudolysogeny, or resistance. In type II P. acnes strains, we found that encoding matching clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat spacers is insufficient to confer phage resistance. Overall, our findings suggest that the prey-predator relationship between bacteria and phages may have a role in modulating the composition of the microbiota. Our study also suggests that the microbiome structure of an individual may be an important factor in the design of phage-based therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris / microbiology*
  • Bacteriophages / genetics*
  • Base Sequence
  • Biodiversity
  • Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats
  • Genome, Viral
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions*
  • Humans
  • Metagenome
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Propionibacterium acnes / genetics*
  • Propionibacterium acnes / pathogenicity*
  • Propionibacterium acnes / virology
  • Skin / microbiology*