Microbiome studies show altered microbiota in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), both in terms of taxonomic composition and metabolic capacity. These studies utilized a traditional bioinformatics methodology, which allows for accurate taxonomic assignment down to the genus level, but cannot accurately resolve species level membership. We applied Resphera Insight, a high-resolution methodology for 16S rRNA taxonomic assignment that is able to provide species-level context in its assignments of 16S rRNA next generation sequencing (NGS) data. Resphera Insight applied to saliva samples from HNSCC patients and healthy controls led to the discovery that a subset of HNSCC saliva samples is significantly enriched with commensal species from the vaginal flora, including Lactobacillus gasseri/johnsonii (710x higher in saliva) and Lactobacillus vaginalis (52x higher in saliva). These species were not observed in normal saliva from Johns Hopkins patients, nor in 16S rRNA NGS saliva samples from the Human Microbiome Project (HMP). Interestingly, both species were only observed in saliva from Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) positive and HPV negative oropharyngeal cancer patients. We confirmed the representation of both species in HMP data obtained from mid-vagina (n=128) and vaginal introitus (n=121) samples. Resphera Insight also led to the discovery that Fusobacterium nucleatum, an oral cavity flora commensal bacterium linked to colon cancer, is enriched (600x higher) in saliva from a subset of HNSCC patients with advanced tumors stages. Together, these high-resolution analyses on 583 samples suggest a possible role for bacterial species in the therapeutic outcome of HPV positive and HPV negative HNSCC patients.
Keywords: high-resolution microbiome profiling; human microbiome project; microbiota; oral cancer; oropharyngeal cancer.