Analysis of Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid Metatranscriptomes Among Patients with COVID-19 Disease

Image of bronchial pathways and covid molecule


To better understand the potential relationship between COVID-19 disease and hologenome microbial community dynamics and functional profiles, we conducted a multivariate taxonomic and functional microbiome comparison of publicly available human bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) metatranscriptome samples amongst COVID-19 (n = 32), community acquired pneumonia (CAP) (n = 25), and uninfected samples (n = 29). We then performed a stratified analysis based on mortality amongst the COVID-19 cohort with known outcomes of deceased (n = 10) versus survived (n = 15). Our overarching hypothesis was that there are detectable and functionally significant relationships between BALF microbial metatranscriptomes and the severity of COVID-19 disease onset and progression. We observed 34 functionally discriminant gene ontology (GO) terms in COVID-19 disease compared to the CAP and uninfected cohorts, and 21 GO terms functionally discriminant to COVID-19 mortality (q < 0.05). GO terms enriched in the COVID-19 disease cohort included hydrolase activity, and significant GO terms under the parental terms of biological regulation, viral process, and interspecies interaction between organisms. Notable GO terms associated with COVID-19 mortality included nucleobase-containing compound biosynthetic process, organonitrogen compound catabolic process, pyrimidine-containing compound biosynthetic process, and DNA recombination, RNA binding, magnesium and zinc ion binding, oxidoreductase activity, and endopeptidase activity. A Dirichlet multinomial mixtures clustering analysis resulted in a best model fit using three distinct clusters that were significantly associated with COVID-19 disease and mortality. We additionally observed discriminant taxonomic differences associated with COVID-19 disease and mortality in the genus Sphingomonas, belonging to the Sphingomonadacae family, Variovorax, belonging to the Comamonadaceae family, and in the class Bacteroidia, belonging to the order Bacteroidales. To our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate significant differences in taxonomic and functional signatures between BALF metatranscriptomes from COVID-19, CAP, and uninfected cohorts, as well as associating these taxa and microbial gene functions with COVID-19 mortality. Collectively, while this data does not speak to causality nor directionality of the association, it does demonstrate a significant relationship between the human microbiome and COVID-19. The results from this study have rendered testable hypotheses that warrant further investigation to better understand the causality and directionality of host–microbiome–pathogen interactions.

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Michael Jochuma, Michael D. Leeb, Kristen Curryc , Victoria Zaksasd , Elizabeth Vitalise , Todd Treangenc , Kjersti Aagaarda , Krista L. Ternusf
a Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, TX, 77030, USA.
b Blue Marble Space Institute of Science, Seattle, WA, 98104, USA
c Department of Computer Science, Rice University, Houston, TX, 77005, USA
d Center for Translational Data Science, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, 60615, USA & Clever Research Lab LLC, 2501 Chatham Rd, Suite N, Springfield, IL, 62704, USA
e Inscripta, Inc, 5500 Central Ave STE 220, Boulder, CO, 80301, USA
f Signature Science, LLC, 8329 North Mopac Expressway, Austin, TX, 78759, USA