Computational approach to modeling microbiome landscapes associated with chronic human disease progression

PLoS Comput Biol. 2022 Aug 4;18(8):e1010373. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1010373. eCollection 2022 Aug.


A microbial community is a dynamic system undergoing constant change in response to internal and external stimuli. These changes can have significant implications for human health. However, due to the difficulty in obtaining longitudinal samples, the study of the dynamic relationship between the microbiome and human health remains a challenge. Here, we introduce a novel computational strategy that uses massive cross-sectional sample data to model microbiome landscapes associated with chronic disease development. The strategy is based on the rationale that each static sample provides a snapshot of the disease process, and if the number of samples is sufficiently large, the footprints of individual samples populate progression trajectories, which enables us to recover disease progression paths along a microbiome landscape by using computational approaches. To demonstrate the validity of the proposed strategy, we developed a bioinformatics pipeline and applied it to a gut microbiome dataset available from a Crohn's disease study. Our analysis resulted in one of the first working models of microbial progression for Crohn's disease. We performed a series of interrogations to validate the constructed model. Our analysis suggested that the model recapitulated the longitudinal progression of microbial dysbiosis during the known clinical trajectory of Crohn's disease. By overcoming restrictions associated with complex longitudinal sampling, the proposed strategy can provide valuable insights into the role of the microbiome in the pathogenesis of chronic disease and facilitate the shift of the field from descriptive research to mechanistic studies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Disease
  • Crohn Disease*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Microbiota*