The association between anterior nares and nasopharyngeal microbiota in infants hospitalized for bronchiolitis

Microbiome. 2018 Jan 3;6(1):2. doi: 10.1186/s40168-017-0385-0.


Background: The airway microbiome is a subject of great interest for the study of respiratory disease. Anterior nare samples are more accessible than samples from deeper within the nasopharynx. However, the correlation between the microbiota found in the anterior nares and the microbiota found within the nasopharynx is unknown. We assessed the anterior nares and nasopharyngeal microbiota to determine (1) the relation of the microbiota from these two upper airway sites and (2) if associations were maintained between the microbiota from these two sites and two bronchiolitis severity outcomes.

Results: Among 815 infants hospitalized at 17 US centers for bronchiolitis with optimal 16S rRNA gene sequence reads from both nasal swab and nasopharyngeal aspirate samples, there were strong intra-individual correlations in the microbial communities between the two sample types, especially relating to Haemophilus and Moraxella genera. By contrast, we found a high abundance of Staphylococcus genus in the nasal swabs-a pattern not found in the nasopharyngeal samples and not informative when predicting the dominant nasopharyngeal genera. While these disparities may have been due to sample processing differences (i.e., nasal swabs were mailed at ambient temperature to emulate processing of future parent collected swabs while nasopharyngeal aspirates were mailed on dry ice), a previously reported association between Haemophilus-dominant nasopharyngeal microbiota and the increased severity of bronchiolitis was replicated utilizing the nasal swab microbiota and the same outcome measures: intensive care use (adjusted OR 6.43; 95% CI 2.25-20.51; P < 0.001) and hospital length-of-stay (adjusted OR 4.31; 95% CI, 1.73-11.11; P = 0.002). Additionally, Moraxella-dominant nasopharyngeal microbiota was previously identified as protective against intensive care use, a result that was replicated when analyzing the nasal swab microbiota (adjusted OR 0.30; 95% CI, 0.11-0.64; P = 0.01).

Conclusions: While the microbiota of the anterior nares and the nasopharynx are distinct, there is considerable overlap between the bacterial community compositions from these two anatomic sites. Despite processing differences between the samples, these results indicate that microbiota severity associations from the nasopharynx are recapitulated in the anterior nares, suggesting that nasal swab samples not only are effective sample types, but also can be used to detect microbial risk markers.

Keywords: Anterior nares; Asthma; Bronchiolitis; Microbiota; Nasopharynx.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Bronchiolitis / microbiology*
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Microbiota
  • Nasal Cavity / microbiology*
  • Nasopharynx / microbiology*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods*
  • Staphylococcus / classification
  • Staphylococcus / genetics
  • Staphylococcus / isolation & purification*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S