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SARS-CoV-2 infection is associated with intestinal permeability, systemic inflammation, and microbial dysbiosis in hospitalized COVID-19 patients


Senior Member


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and associated severity has been linked to uncontrolled inflammation and may be associated with changes in the microbiome of mucosal sites including the gastrointestinal tract and oral cavity. These sites play an important role in host-microbe homeostasis and disruption of epithelial barrier integrity during COVID-19 may potentially lead to exacerbated inflammation and immune dysfunction. Outcomes in COVID-19 are highly disparate, ranging from asymptomatic to fatal, and the impact of microbial dysbiosis on disease severity is unclear. Here, we obtained plasma, rectal swabs, oropharyngeal swabs, and nasal swabs from 86 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and 12 healthy volunteers. We performed 16S rRNA sequencing to characterize the microbial communities in the mucosal swabs and measured circulating cytokines, markers of gut barrier integrity, and fatty acids in the plasma samples. We compared these plasma concentrations and microbiomes between healthy volunteers and the COVID-19 patients who had survived or unfortunately died by the end of study enrollment, and between severe disease and healthy controls, as well as performed a correlation analysis between plasma variables and bacterial abundances. The rectal swabs of COVID-19 patients had reduced abundances of several commensal bacteria including Faecalibacterium prausnitsii, and an increased abundance of the opportunistic pathogens Eggerthella lenta and Hungatella hathewayi. Furthermore, the oral pathogen Scardovia wiggsiae was more abundant in the oropharyngeal swabs of COVID-19 patients who died. The abundance of both H. hathewayi and S. wiggsiae correlated with circulating inflammatory markers including IL-6, highlighting the possible role of the microbiome in COVID-19 severity, and providing potential therapeutic targets for managing COVID-19.