Atopic asthmatic immune phenotypes associated with airway microbiota and airway obstruction

PLoS One. 2017 Oct 20;12(10):e0184566. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0184566. eCollection 2017.


Background: Differences in asthma severity may be related to inflammation in the airways. The lower airway microbiota has been associated with clinical features such as airway obstruction, symptom control, and response to corticosteroids.

Objective: To assess the relationship between local airway inflammation, severity of disease, and the lower airway microbiota in atopic asthmatics.

Methods: A cohort of young adult, atopic asthmatics with intermittent or mild/moderate persistent symptoms (n = 13) were assessed via bronchoscopy, lavage, and spirometry. These individuals were compared to age matched non-asthmatic controls (n = 6) and to themselves after six weeks of treatment with fluticasone propionate (FP). Inflammation of the airways was assessed via a cytokine and chemokine panel. Lower airway microbiota composition was determined by metagenomic shotgun sequencing.

Results: Unsupervised clustering of cytokines and chemokines prior to treatment with FP identified two asthmatic phenotypes (AP), termed AP1 and AP2, with distinct bronchoalveolar lavage inflammatory profiles. AP2 was associated with more obstruction, compared to AP1. After treatment with FP reduced MIP-1β and TNF-α and increased IL-2 was observed. A module of highly correlated cytokines that include MIP-1β and TNF-α was identified that negatively correlated with pulmonary function. Independently, IL-2 was positively correlated with pulmonary function. The airway microbiome composition correlated with asthmatic phenotypes. AP2, prior to FP treatment, was enriched with Streptococcus pneumoniae. Unique associations between IL-2 or the cytokine module and the microbiota composition of the airways were observed in asthmatics subjects prior to treatment but not after or in controls.

Conclusion: The underlying inflammation in atopic asthma is related to the composition of microbiota and is associated with severity of airway obstruction. Treatment with inhaled corticosteroids was associated with changes in the airway inflammatory response to microbiota.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / pharmacology
  • Adult
  • Airway Obstruction*
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Asthma / immunology*
  • Asthma / metabolism
  • Chemokines / metabolism
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunophenotyping*
  • Male
  • Microbiota*
  • Young Adult


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Chemokines
  • Cytokines