Document Type

Journal Article

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School of Science




National Institutes of Health of the USA / Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation / National Research Foundation South Africa / South African Medical Research Council / Drakenstein Child Health Study / L’Oréal‑UNESCO For Women in Science / Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Investigator Grant


Claassen-Weitz, S., Gardner-Lubbe, S., Xia, Y., Mwaikono, K. S., Mounaud, S. H., Nierman, W. C., . . . Nicol, M. P. (2023). Succession and determinants of the early life nasopharyngeal microbiota in a South African birth cohort. Microbiome, 11, article 127.


Background: Bacteria colonizing the nasopharynx play a key role as gatekeepers of respiratory health. Yet, dynamics of early life nasopharyngeal (NP) bacterial profiles remain understudied in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where children have a high prevalence of risk factors for lower respiratory tract infection. We investigated longitudinal changes in NP bacterial profiles, and associated exposures, among healthy infants from low-income households in South Africa. Methods: We used short fragment (V4 region) 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing to characterize NP bacterial profiles from 103 infants in a South African birth cohort, at monthly intervals from birth through the first 12 months of life and six monthly thereafter until 30 months. Results: Corynebacterium and Staphylococcus were dominant colonizers at 1 month of life; however, these were rapidly replaced by Moraxella- or Haemophilus-dominated profiles by 4 months. This succession was almost universal and largely independent of a broad range of exposures. Warm weather (summer), lower gestational age, maternal smoking, no day-care attendance, antibiotic exposure, or low height-for-age z score at 12 months were associated with higher alpha and beta diversity. Summer was also associated with higher relative abundances of Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Neisseria, or anaerobic gram-negative bacteria, whilst spring and winter were associated with higher relative abundances of Haemophilus or Corynebacterium, respectively. Maternal smoking was associated with higher relative abundances of Porphyromonas. Antibiotic therapy (or isoniazid prophylaxis for tuberculosis) was associated with higher relative abundance of anerobic taxa (Porphyromonas, Fusobacterium, and Prevotella) and with lower relative abundances of health associated-taxa Corynebacterium and Dolosigranulum. HIV-exposure was associated with higher relative abundances of Klebsiella or Veillonella and lower relative abundances of an unclassified genus within the family Lachnospiraceae. Conclusions: In this intensively sampled cohort, there was rapid and predictable replacement of early profiles dominated by health-associated Corynebacterium and Dolosigranulum with those dominated by Moraxella and Haemophilus, independent of exposures. Season and antibiotic exposure were key determinants of NP bacterial profiles. Understudied but highly prevalent exposures prevalent in LMICs, including maternal smoking and HIV-exposure, were associated with NP bacterial profiles.



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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.