Redefining the Chronic-Wound Microbiome: Fungal Communities Are Prevalent, Dynamic, and Associated with Delayed Healing

mBio. 2016 Sep 6;7(5):e01058-16. doi: 10.1128/mBio.01058-16.


Chronic nonhealing wounds have been heralded as a silent epidemic, causing significant morbidity and mortality especially in elderly, diabetic, and obese populations. Polymicrobial biofilms in the wound bed are hypothesized to disrupt the highly coordinated and sequential events of cutaneous healing. Both culture-dependent and -independent studies of the chronic-wound microbiome have almost exclusively focused on bacteria, omitting what we hypothesize are important fungal contributions to impaired healing and the development of complications. Here we show for the first time that fungal communities (the mycobiome) in chronic wounds are predictive of healing time, associated with poor outcomes, and form mixed fungal-bacterial biofilms. We longitudinally profiled 100, nonhealing diabetic-foot ulcers with high-throughput sequencing of the pan-fungal internal transcribed spacer 1 (ITS1) locus, estimating that up to 80% of wounds contain fungi, whereas cultures performed in parallel captured only 5% of colonized wounds. The "mycobiome" was highly heterogeneous over time and between subjects. Fungal diversity increased with antibiotic administration and onset of a clinical complication. The proportions of the phylum Ascomycota were significantly greater (P = 0.015) at the beginning of the study in wounds that took >8 weeks to heal. Wound necrosis was distinctly associated with pathogenic fungal species, while taxa identified as allergenic filamentous fungi were associated with low levels of systemic inflammation. Directed culturing of wounds stably colonized by pathogens revealed that interkingdom biofilms formed between yeasts and coisolated bacteria. Combined, our analyses provide enhanced resolution of the mycobiome during impaired wound healing, its role in chronic disease, and impact on clinical outcomes.

Importance: Wounds are an underappreciated but serious complication for a diverse spectrum of diseases. High-risk groups, such as persons with diabetes, have a 25% lifetime risk of developing a wound that can become chronic. The majority of microbiome research related to chronic wounds is focused on bacteria, but the association of fungi with clinical outcomes remains to be elucidated. Here we describe the dynamic fungal communities in 100 diabetic patients with foot ulcers. We found that communities are unstable over time, but at the first clinical presentation, the relative proportions of different phyla predict healing times. Pathogenic fungi not identified by culture reside in necrotic wounds and are associated with a poor prognosis. In wounds stably colonized by fungi, we identified yeasts capable of forming biofilms in concert with bacteria. Our findings illuminate the associations of the fungal mycobiome with wound prognosis and healing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • DNA, Fungal / chemistry
  • DNA, Fungal / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal Spacer / chemistry
  • DNA, Ribosomal Spacer / genetics
  • Diabetic Foot / complications
  • Female
  • Fungi / classification*
  • Fungi / genetics*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mycobiome*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Wound Healing*
  • Wound Infection / microbiology*


  • DNA, Fungal
  • DNA, Ribosomal Spacer