Seasonal airway microbiome and transcriptome interactions promote childhood asthma exacerbations

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2022 Jul;150(1):204-213. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2022.01.020. Epub 2022 Feb 8.


Background: Seasonal variation in respiratory illnesses and exacerbations in pediatric populations with asthma is well described, though whether upper airway microbes play season-specific roles in these events is unknown.

Objective: We hypothesized that nasal microbiota composition is seasonally dynamic and that discrete microbe-host interactions modify risk of asthma exacerbation in a season-specific manner.

Methods: Repeated nasal samples from children with exacerbation-prone asthma collected during periods of respiratory health (baseline; n = 181 samples) or first captured respiratory illness (n = 97) across all seasons, underwent bacterial (16S ribosomal RNA gene) and fungal (internal transcribed spacer region 2) biomarker sequencing. Virus detection was performed by multiplex PCR. Paired nasal transcriptome data were examined for seasonal dynamics and integrative analyses.

Results: Upper airway bacterial and fungal microbiota and rhinovirus detection exhibited significant seasonal dynamics. In seasonally adjusted analysis, variation in both baseline and respiratory illness microbiota related to subsequent exacerbation. Specifically, in the fall, when respiratory illness and exacerbation events were most frequent, several Moraxella and Haemophilus members were enriched both in virus-positive respiratory illnesses and those that progressed to exacerbations. The abundance of 2 discrete bacterial networks, characteristically comprising either Streptococcus or Staphylococcus, exhibited opposing interactions with an exacerbation-associated SMAD3 nasal epithelial transcriptional module to significantly increase the odds of subsequent exacerbation (odds ratio = 14.7, 95% confidence interval = 1.50-144, P = .02; odds ratio = 39.17, 95% confidence interval = 2.44-626, P = .008, respectively).

Conclusions: Upper airway microbiomes covary with season and with seasonal trends in respiratory illnesses and asthma exacerbations. Seasonally adjusted analyses reveal specific bacteria-host interactions that significantly increase risk of asthma exacerbation in these children.

Keywords: Microbiome; exacerbations; pediatric asthma; respiratory illness; transcriptomics; virus infection.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Asthma* / microbiology
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*
  • Rhinovirus
  • Seasons
  • Transcriptome
  • Virus Diseases*