Fusobacterium nucleatum and Bacteroides fragilis detection in colorectal tumours: Optimal target site and correlation with total bacterial load

PLoS One. 2022 Jan 7;17(1):e0262416. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0262416. eCollection 2022.


Background: Mucosal infiltration by certain bacterial species may contribute to the development and progression of colorectal cancer (CRC). There is considerable variation in reported detection rates in human CRC samples and the extent to which bacterial infiltration varies across regions of the primary tumour is unknown. This study aimed to determine if there is an optimal site for bacterial detection within CRC tumours.

Methods: Presence of target bacterial species was assessed by quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) in 42 human CRC tumours. Abundance in primary tumour regions, normal epithelium and at metastatic sites was investigated in an expanded cohort of 51 patients. Species presence/absence was confirmed by diversity profiling in five patients. Correlation with total bacterial load and clinicopathological features was assessed.

Results: Fusobacterium nucleatum and Bacteroides fragilis were detected in tumours from 43% and 24% of patients, respectively (17% positive for both species). The optimal detection site was the tumour luminal surface (TLS). Patients testing positive at the TLS frequently tested negative at other sites, including central tumour and invasive margin. F. nucleatum was detected at a higher frequency in tumour versus normal epithelium (p < 0.01) and was associated with more advanced disease (p = 0.01). Detection of both species correlated with total bacterial load. However, corroboration of qPCR results via diversity profiling suggests detection of these species may indicate a specific microbial signature.

Conclusions: This study supports a role for F. nucleatum in CRC development. Presence of F. nucleatum and B. fragilis varies across primary tumour regions, with the TLS representing the optimal site for bacterial detection.

Grant support

Funding for this work was provided by St John of God Subiaco Hospital, including salary for CP and MM to support their research activity. The funder had no other role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript’.