Increased Abundance of Achromobacter xylosoxidans and Bacillus cereus in Upper Airway Transcriptionally Active Microbiome of COVID-19 Mortality Patients Indicates Role of Co-Infections in Disease Severity and Outcome

Microbiol Spectr. 2022 May 17;e0231121. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.02311-21. Online ahead of print.


The modulators of severe COVID-19 have emerged as the most intriguing features of SARS-CoV-2 pathogenesis. This is especially true as we are encountering variants of concern (VOC) with increased transmissibility and vaccination breakthroughs. Microbial co-infections are being investigated as one of the crucial factors for exacerbation of disease severity and complications of COVID-19. A key question remains whether early transcriptionally active microbial signature/s in COVID-19 patients can provide a window for future disease severity susceptibility and outcome? Using complementary metagenomics sequencing approaches, respiratory virus oligo panel (RVOP) and Holo-seq, our study highlights the possible functional role of nasopharyngeal early resident transcriptionally active microbes in modulating disease severity, within recovered patients with sub-phenotypes (mild, moderate, severe) and mortality. The integrative analysis combines patients' clinical parameters, SARS-CoV-2 phylogenetic analysis, microbial differential composition, and their functional role. The clinical sub-phenotypes analysis led to the identification of transcriptionally active bacterial species associated with disease severity. We found significant transcript abundance of Achromobacter xylosoxidans and Bacillus cereus in the mortality, Leptotrichia buccalis in the severe, Veillonella parvula in the moderate, and Actinomyces meyeri and Halomonas sp. in the mild COVID-19 patients. Additionally, the metabolic pathways, distinguishing the microbial functional signatures between the clinical sub-phenotypes, were also identified. We report a plausible mechanism wherein the increased transcriptionally active bacterial isolates might contribute to enhanced inflammatory response and co-infections that could modulate the disease severity in these groups. Current study provides an opportunity for potentially using these bacterial species for screening and identifying COVID-19 patient sub-groups with severe disease outcome and priority medical care. IMPORTANCE COVID-19 is invariably a disease of diverse clinical manifestation, with multiple facets involved in modulating the progression and outcome. In this regard, we investigated the role of transcriptionally active microbial co-infections as possible modulators of disease pathology in hospital admitted SARS-CoV-2 infected patients. Specifically, can there be early nasopharyngeal microbial signatures indicative of prospective disease severity? Based on disease severity symptoms, the patients were segregated into clinical sub-phenotypes: mild, moderate, severe (recovered), and mortality. We identified significant presence of transcriptionally active isolates, Achromobacter xylosoxidans and Bacillus cereus in the mortality patients. Importantly, the bacterial species might contribute toward enhancing the inflammatory responses as well as reported to be resistant to common antibiotic therapy, which together hold potential to alter the disease severity and outcome.

Keywords: COVID-19; Holo-Seq; co-infection; disease outcome; disease sub-phenotype; host-pathogen interactions; metabolic pathways; nasopharyngeal RNA; pathogen genomics; respiratory virus oligo panel (RVOP); transcriptionally active microbial isolates.