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Circulating microbial cell-free DNA is associated with inflammatory host-responses in severe pneumonia


Host inflammatory responses predict worse outcome in severe pneumonia, yet little is known about what drives dysregulated inflammation. We performed metagenomic sequencing of microbial cell-free DNA (mcfDNA) in 83 mechanically ventilated patients (26 culture-positive, 41 culture-negative pneumonia, 16 uninfected controls). Culture-positive patients had higher levels of mcfDNA than those with culture-negative pneumonia and uninfected controls (p<0.005). Plasma levels of inflammatory biomarkers (fractalkine, procalcitonin, pentraxin-3 and suppression of tumorigenicity-2) were independently associated with mcfDNA levels (adjusted p<0.05) among all patients with pneumonia. Such host–microbe interactions in the systemic circulation of patients with severe pneumonia warrant further large-scale clinical and mechanistic investigations.

  • pneumonia

Data availability statement

To ensure transparency and reproducibility of our study, our de-identified dataset and code for analyses have been made publicly available at

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