The airways microbiome of individuals with asthma treated with high and low doses of inhaled corticosteroids

Matthew J. Martin, Nur Masirah M. Zain, Glenn Hearson, Damian W. Rivett, Garrit Koller, David J. Wooldridge, Graham Rose, Saheer E. Gharbia, Ben Forbes, Kenneth D. Bruce*, Tim W. Harrison

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Background Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) are the mainstay of asthma treatment, but evidence suggests a link between ICS usage and increased rates of respiratory infections. We assessed the composition of the asthmatic airways microbiome in asthma patients taking low and high dose ICS and the stability of the microbiome over a 2 week period. Methods We prospectively recruited 55 individuals with asthma. Of these, 22 were on low-dose ICS and 33 on high-dose ICS (16 on budesonide, 17 on fluticasone propionate). Sputum from each subject underwent DNA extraction, amplification and 16S rRNA gene sequencing of the bacterial component of the microbiome. 19 subjects returned for further sputum induction after 24 h and 2 weeks. Results A total of 5,615,037 sequencing reads revealed 167 bacterial taxa in the asthmatic airway samples, with the most abundant being Streptococcus spp. No significant differences in sputum bacterial load or overall community composition were seen between the low- and high-dose ICS groups. However, Streptococcus spp. showed significantly higher relative abundance in subjects taking low-dose ICS (p = 0.002). Haemophilus parainfluenzae was significantly more abundant in subjects on high-dose fluticasone propionate than those on high-dose budesonide (p = 0.047). There were no statistically significant changes in microbiota composition over a 2-week period. Discussion Whilst no significant differences were observed between the low- and high-dose ICS groups, increased abundance of the potential pathogen H. parainfluenzae was observed in patients taking high-dose fluticasone propionate compared to those taking high-dose budesonide. The microbiota were stable over fourteen days, providing novel evidence of the established community of bacteria in the asthmatic airways.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0244681
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12 December
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


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