Publication: Streptococcus pneumoniae Colonization Disrupts the Microbial Community within the Upper Respiratory Tract of Aging Mice

Colonization of Streptococcus pneumoniae within the upper respiratory tract (URT) of elderly individuals is a major concern, as it often results in the development of pneumonia, which can be deadly in this population. A study published by MIRC Masters’ student Netusha Thevaranjan, under the supervision of Dr. Dawn Bowdish, examined howNetusha-sm aging can change the composition of the respiratory microbial community and consequently, impact bacterial colonization. Using a mouse model of pneumococcal colonization, the study characterized the composition of the URT microbiota in young, middle-aged, and old mice in both the naïve state, and throughout the course of nasopharyngeal colonization with S. pneumoniae. It was shown that the composition of the URT microbiota differs with age, and that colonization with S. pneumoniae in older mice disrupted pre-existing microbial communities.

Furthermore, the study demonstrated that there were several interspecies interactions between S. pneumoniae and resident microbes. In particular,Streptococcus interacted competitively with Staphylococcus and synergistically with Haemophilus. This work provides insight into how aging influences bacterial colonization, and understanding the relationship between these two factors can help create strategies to protect the elderly from age-associated infections and disease. Read More

Stearns JC, Davidson CJ, McKeon S, Whelan FJ, Fontes ME, Schryvers AB, Bowdish DM, Kellner JD, Surette MG. Culture and molecular-based profiles show shifts in bacterial communities of the upper respiratory tract that occur with age. ISME J. 2015 May;9(5):1268. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2015.49.

Stearns JC, Davidson CJ, McKeon S, Whelan FJ, Fontes ME, Schryvers AB, Bowdish DM, Kellner JD, Surette MG. Culture and molecular-based profiles show shifts in bacterial communities of the upper respiratory tract that occur with age. ISME J. 2015 May;9(5):1268. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2015.49.

Abstract: The upper respiratory tract (URT) is a crucial site for host defense, as it is home to bacterial communities that both modulate host immune defense and serve as a reservoir of potential pathogens. Young children are at high risk of respiratory illness, yet the composition of their URT microbiota is not well understood. Microbial profiling of the respiratory tract has traditionally focused on culturing common respiratory pathogens, whereas recent culture-independent microbiome profiling can only report the relative abundance of bacterial populations. In the current study, we used both molecular profiling of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene and laboratory culture to examine the bacterial diversity from the oropharynx and nasopharynx of 51 healthy children with a median age of 1.1 years (range 1–4.5 years) along with 19 accompanying parents. The resulting profiles suggest that in young children the nasopharyngeal microbiota, much like the gastrointestinal tract microbiome, changes from an immature state, where it is colonized by a few dominant taxa, to a more diverse state as it matures to resemble the adult microbiota. Importantly, this difference in bacterial diversity between adults and children accompanies a change in bacterial load of three orders of magnitude. This indicates that the bacterial communities in the nasopharynx of young children have a fundamentally different structure from those in adults and suggests that maturation of this community occurs sometime during the first few years of life, a period that includes ages at which children are at the highest risk for respiratory disease.

Verschoor CP, Dorrington MG, Novakowski KE, Kaiser J, Radford K, Nair P, Anipindi V, Kaushic C, Surette MG, Bowdish DME. MicroRNA-155 Is Required for Clearance of Streptococcus pneumoniae from the Nasopharynx. Infect Immun. 2014 Nov;82(11):4824-33. doi: 10.1128/IAI.02251-14.

Verschoor CP, Dorrington MG, Novakowski KE, Kaiser J, Radford K, Nair P, Anipindi V, Kaushic C, Surette MG, Bowdish DME. MicroRNA-155 Is Required for Clearance of Streptococcus pneumoniae from the Nasopharynx. Infect Immun. 2014 Nov;82(11):4824-33. doi: 10.1128/IAI.02251-14.

This paper outlines how microRNA- (miR-)155 regulates the immune response to S. pneumoniae colonization in the nasal passages of mice by stimulating the differentiation of Th17 cells. 

Kaiser JC, Verschoor CP, Surette MG, Bowdish DME. Host cytokine responses distinguish invasive from airway isolates of the Streptococcus milleri/anginosis group. BMC Infect Dis. 2014 Sep 11;14:498. doi: 10.1186/1471-2334-14-498.

Kaiser JC, Verschoor CP, Surette MG, Bowdish DME. Host cytokine responses distinguish invasive from airway isolates of the Streptococcus milleri/anginosis group. BMC Infect Dis. 2014 Sep 11;14:498. doi: 10.1186/1471-2334-14-498.

This paper demonstrates that there are host- and strain- specific responses to isolates of the Streptococcus milleri/anginosis group and that isolates from invasive disease appear to be more immunostimulatory than those from commensal relationships.

Whelan et al. The Loss of Topography in the Microbial Communities of the Upper Respiratory Tract in the Elderly. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2014 Mar 6.

Whelan FJ, Verschoor CP, Stearns JC, Rossi L, Luinstra K, Loeb M, Smieja M, Johnstone J, Surette MG, Bowdish DM. The Loss of Topography in the Microbial Communities of the Upper Respiratory Tract in the Elderly. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2014 Mar 6.

This paper describes how the microbial communities of the anterior nares and nasopharynx change between adults and the elderly. 

MARCO is required for TLR2- and NOD2-mediated resonses to Streptococcus pneumoniae and clearance of pneumococcal colonization in the murine nasopharnyx. 2013. Dorrington et al. J. Immunol.

Click image for .pdf of paper.

Dorrington JI

Despite having multiple vaccines against Streptococcus pneumoniae available today, over a million people die each year due to pneumococcal infections. Mike Dorrington, a Ph.D. candidate in the Bowdish lab, is attempting to understand how to produce better vaccines by gaining a better grasp on how the immune system fights these bacteria. Mike has recently published a manuscript entitled “MARCO is required for TLR2- and NOD2-mediated responses to Streptococcus pneumoniae and clearance of pneumococcal colonization in the murine nasopharynx” in the Journal of Immunology. Mike’s work focuses on the importance of macrophage scavenger receptors in immune protection against S. pneumoniae, the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia. This manuscript provides us with evidence that Macrophage Receptor with Collagenous structure (MARCO), a class A scavenger receptor, plays an integral role in establishing and maintaining the appropriate innate immune response to the bacteria in its preferred niche, the nasal passage.

     S. pneumoniae is a very common pathogen that causes fatal disease in children under the age of 5 (where it often causes meningitis) and adults over the age of 65 (where it most often presents in pneumonia). Before infectious disease occurs, bacteria colonize the nasal passages of individuals where they replicate. If the bacteria are able to persist for long enough, they will then move to the lungs, blood, or meninges and cause potentially life-threatening disease. It has previously been shown that the clearance of the bacteria from the nasal passages was dependent on an influx of macrophages to the site. These cells are able to internalize and kill the bacteria efficiently. MARCO is expressed by these active macrophages and has been shown to play a role in the recognition of the bacteria.

Mike’s work shows that mice who lack MARCO expression are unable to clear bacterial colonization in a timely fashion. This is due to a decrease in a number of innate immune functions. First, MARCO-deficient mice have significantly less recruitment of innate immune cells such as neutrophils and macrophages to the site of colonization. Without these cells, the bacteria are free to thrive and replicate in the nasal passage, increasing the chance that they will travel to further tissues and cause disease. MARCO-deficient mice also present with less inflammation than they’re wild-type counterparts, as seen by a paucity of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines including, surprisingly, type I interferons (cytokines associated with antiviral immunity). These data are supported by experiments performed in vitro using macrophage populations from MARCO-deficient and wild-type mice. When these cells are stimulated with S. pneumoniae, the MARCO-deficient macrophages produce less cytokines and chemokines. These cells are also less able to internalize the bacteria, a key step in the destruction of the pathogens.

A potentially ground-breaking finding that comes from Mike’s work is that MARCO is able to modulate the activity of other important innate immune receptors. Mike has shown that NF-kB activation in S. pneumoniae-stimulated cells expressing MARCO along with TLR2 and its co-receptor CD14 is much higher than cells not expressing MARCO. This is also true of cells expressing MARCO as well as NOD2 when compared to those expressing just NOD2. As NF-kB is a central regulator of immune function, this represents a very important step in our understanding of antibacterial innate immune responses in the nose.

Mike’s work on MARCO will continue as he attempts to uncover the mechanism by which MARCO increases NF-kB activation by these other receptors. It is his hope to be able to apply these advances in the basic science to vaccine development in order to generate an effective strain-independent vaccine against S. pneumoniae infection.