Background: Lung microbiota profiles in patients with early idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) have been associated with disease progression; however, the topographic heterogeneity of lung microbiota and their roles in advanced IPF are unknown.
Methods: We performed a retrospective, case-control study of explanted lung tissue obtained at the time of lung transplantation or rapid autopsy from patients with IPF and other chronic lung diseases (connective tissue disease-associated interstitial lung disease (CTD-ILD), cystic fibrosis (CF), COPD and donor lungs unsuitable for transplant from Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE)). We sampled subpleural tissue and airway-based specimens (bronchial washings and airway tissue) and quantified bacterial load and profiled communities by amplification and sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene.
Findings: Explants from 62 patients with IPF, 15 patients with CTD-ILD, 20 patients with CF, 20 patients with COPD and 20 CORE patients were included. Airway-based samples had higher bacterial load compared with distal parenchymal tissue. IPF basilar tissue had much lower bacterial load compared with CF and CORE lungs (p<0.001). No microbial community differences were found between parenchymal tissue samples from different IPF lobes. Dirichlet multinomial models revealed an IPF cluster (29%) with distinct composition, high bacterial load and low alpha diversity, exhibiting higher odds for acute exacerbation or death.
Interpretation: IPF explants had low biomass in the distal parenchyma of all three lobes with higher bacterial load in the airways. The discovery of a distinct subgroup of patients with IPF with higher bacterial load and worse clinical outcomes supports investigation of personalised medicine approaches for microbiome-targeted interventions.
Keywords: bacterial infection; idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; lung transplantation.
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