Asthma and Wheeze Severity and the Oropharyngeal Microbiota in Children and Adolescents

Jonathan Thorsen, Jakob Stokholm, Morten Arendt Rasmussen, Michael Roggenbuck-Wedemeyer, Nadja H Vissing, Martin S Mortensen, Asker D Brejnrod, Louise Fleming, Andrew Bush, Graham Roberts, Florian Singer, Urs Frey, Gunilla Hedlin, Björn Nordlund, Clare S Murray, Mahmoud I Abdel-Aziz, Simone Hashimoto, Wim van Aalderen, Anke H Maitland-van der Zee, Dominick ShawStephen J Fowler, Ana Sousa, Peter J Sterk, Kian Fan Chung, Ian M Adcock, Ratko Djukanovic, Charles Auffray, Aruna T Bansal, Scott Wagers, Bo Chawes, Klaus Bønnelykke, Søren Johannes Sørensen, Hans Bisgaard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rationale: There is a major unmet need for improving the care of children and adolescents with severe asthma and wheeze. Identifying factors contributing to disease severity may lead to improved diagnostics, biomarkers, or therapies. The airway microbiota may be such a key factor. Objectives: To compare the oropharyngeal airway microbiota of children and adolescents with severe and mild/moderate asthma/wheeze. Methods: Oropharyngeal swab samples from school-age and preschool children in the European U-BIOPRED (Unbiased BIOmarkers in the PREDiction of respiratory disease outcomes) multicenter study of severe asthma, all receiving severity-appropriate treatment, were examined using 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing. Bacterial taxa were defined as amplicon sequence variants. Results: We analyzed 241 samples from four cohorts: A) 86 school-age children with severe asthma; B) 39 school-age children with mild/moderate asthma; C) 65 preschool children with severe wheeze; and D) 51 preschool children with mild/moderate wheeze. The most common bacteria were Streptococcus (mean relative abundance, 33.5%), Veillonella (10.3%), Haemophilus (7.0%), Prevotella (5.9%), and Rothia (5.5%). Age group (school-age vs. preschool) was associated with the microbiota in β-diversity analysis ( F  = 3.32, P  = 0.011) and in a differential abundance analysis (28 significant amplicon sequence variants). Among all children, we found no significant difference in the microbiota between children with severe and mild/moderate asthma/wheeze in univariable β-diversity analysis ( F  = 1.99, P  = 0.08, N  = 241), but a significant difference in a multivariable model ( F  = 2.66, P  = 0.035), including the number of exacerbations in the previous year. Age was also significant when expressed as a microbial maturity score (Spearman Rho, 0.39; P  = 4.6 × 10 -10); however, this score was not associated with asthma/wheeze severity. Conclusions: There was a modest difference in the oropharyngeal airway microbiota between children with severe and mild/moderate asthma/wheeze across all children but not in individual age groups, and a strong association between the microbiota and age. This suggests the oropharyngeal airway microbiota as an interesting entity in studying asthma severity, but probably without the strength to serve as a biomarker for targeted intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2031-2043
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of the American Thoracic Society
Issue number12
Early online date29 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Adolescent
  • Asthma/microbiology
  • Bacteria/genetics
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Microbiota/genetics
  • Oropharynx/microbiology
  • Respiratory Sounds


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