Sputum microbiome profiles identify severe asthma phenotypes of relative stability at 12 to 18 months

Mahmoud I. Abdel-Aziz, Paul Brinkman, Susanne J.H. Vijverberg, Anne H. Neerincx, John H. Riley, Stewart Bates, Simone Hashimoto, Nazanin Zounemat Kermani, Kian Fan Chung, Ratko Djukanovic, Sven Erik Dahlén, Ian M. Adcock, Peter H. Howarth, Peter J. Sterk, Aletta D. Kraneveld, Anke H. Maitland-van der Zee*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Asthma is a heterogeneous disease characterized by distinct phenotypes with associated microbial dysbiosis. Objectives: Our aim was to identify severe asthma phenotypes based on sputum microbiome profiles and assess their stability after 12 to 18 months. A further aim was to evaluate clusters’ robustness after inclusion of an independent cohort of patients with mild-to-moderate asthma. Methods: In this longitudinal multicenter cohort study, sputum samples were collected for microbiome profiling from a subset of the Unbiased Biomarkers in Prediction of Respiratory Disease Outcomes adult patient cohort at baseline and after 12 to 18 months of follow-up. Unsupervised hierarchical clustering was performed by using the Bray-Curtis β-diversity measure of microbial profiles. For internal validation, partitioning around medoids, consensus cluster distribution, bootstrapping, and topological data analysis were applied. Follow-up samples were studied to evaluate within-patient clustering stability in patients with severe asthma. Cluster robustness was evaluated by using an independent cohort of patients with mild-to-moderate asthma. Results: Data were available for 100 subjects with severe asthma (median age 55 years; 42% males). Two microbiome-driven clusters were identified; they were characterized by differences in asthma onset, smoking status, residential locations, percentage of blood and/or sputum neutrophils and macrophages, lung spirometry results, and concurrent asthma medications (all P values < .05). The cluster 2 patients displayed a commensal-deficient bacterial profile that was associated with worse asthma outcomes than those of the cluster 1 patients. Longitudinal clusters revealed high relative stability after 12 to 18 months in those with severe asthma. Further inclusion of an independent cohort of 24 patients with mild-to-moderate asthma was consistent with the clustering assignments. Conclusion: Unbiased microbiome-driven clustering revealed 2 distinct robust phenotypes of severe asthma that exhibited relative overtime stability. This suggests that the sputum microbiome may serve as a biomarker for better characterizing asthma phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-134
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Issue number1
Early online date27 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • asthma phenotypes
  • follow-up
  • lung function
  • macrophages
  • metagenomics
  • neutrophils
  • Sputum microbiome
  • unbiased clusters


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