Plasma Microbiome in COVID-19 Subjects: An Indicator of Gut Barrier Defects and Dysbiosis

Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Aug 15;23(16):9141. doi: 10.3390/ijms23169141.


The gut is a well-established route of infection and target for viral damage by SARS-CoV-2. This is supported by the clinical observation that about half of COVID-19 patients exhibit gastrointestinal (GI) complications. We aimed to investigate whether the analysis of plasma could provide insight into gut barrier dysfunction in patients with COVID-19 infection. Plasma samples of COVID-19 patients (n = 146) and healthy individuals (n = 47) were collected during hospitalization and routine visits. Plasma microbiome was analyzed using 16S rRNA sequencing and gut permeability markers including fatty acid binding protein 2 (FABP2), peptidoglycan (PGN), and lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in both patient cohorts. Plasma samples of both cohorts contained predominately Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Bacteroides, and Actinobacteria. COVID-19 subjects exhibit significant dysbiosis (p = 0.001) of the plasma microbiome with increased abundance of Actinobacteria spp. (p = 0.0332), decreased abundance of Bacteroides spp. (p = 0.0003), and an increased Firmicutes:Bacteroidetes ratio (p = 0.0003) compared to healthy subjects. The concentration of the plasma gut permeability marker FABP2 (p = 0.0013) and the gut microbial antigens PGN (p < 0.0001) and LPS (p = 0.0049) were significantly elevated in COVID-19 patients compared to healthy subjects. These findings support the notion that the intestine may represent a source for bacteremia and contribute to worsening COVID-19 outcomes. Therapies targeting the gut and prevention of gut barrier defects may represent a strategy to improve outcomes in COVID-19 patients.

Keywords: COVID-19; circulating microbiome; dysbiosis; gut barrier permeability.

MeSH terms

  • Actinobacteria* / genetics
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • COVID-19*
  • Dysbiosis / microbiology
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Firmicutes / genetics
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Microbiota*
  • Peptidoglycan
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • Peptidoglycan
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S