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Original research
Resistome analyses of sputum from COPD and healthy subjects reveals bacterial load-related prevalence of target genes

Abstract

Background Antibiotic resistance is a major global threat. We hypothesised that the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) airway is a reservoir of antimicrobial resistance genes (ARGs) that associate with microbiome-specific COPD subgroups.

Objective To determine the resistance gene profiles in respiratory samples from COPD patients and healthy volunteers.

Methods Quantitative PCR targeting 279 specific ARGs was used to profile the resistomes in sputum from subjects with COPD at stable, exacerbation and recovery visits (n=55; COPD-BEAT study), healthy controls with (n=7) or without (n=22) exposure to antibiotics in the preceding 12 months (EXCEED study) and in bronchial brush samples from COPD (n=8) and healthy controls (n=7) (EvA study).

Results ARG mean (SEM) prevalence was greater in stable COPD samples (35.2 (1.6)) than in healthy controls (27.6 (1.7); p=0.004) and correlated with total bacterial abundance (r2=0.23; p<0.001). Prevalence of ARG positive signals in individuals was not related to COPD symptoms, lung function or their changes at exacerbation. In the COPD subgroups designated High γProteobacteria and High Firmicutes, ARG prevalence was not different at stable state but significantly declined from stable through exacerbation to recovery in the former (p=0.011) without changes in total bacterial abundance. The ARG patterns were similar in COPD versus health, COPD microbiome-subgroups and between sputum and bronchoscopic samples independent of antibiotic exposure in the last 12 months.

Conclusions ARGs are highly prevalent in sputum, broadly in proportion to bacterial abundance in both healthy and COPD subjects. Thus, COPD appears to be an ARG reservoir due to high levels of bacterial colonisation.

  • COPD exacerbations
  • bacterial infection
  • infection control
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