Early-life viral infections are associated with disadvantageous immune and microbiota profiles and recurrent respiratory infections

Wouter de Steenhuijsen Piters, Rebecca L Watson, Emma M de Koff, Raiza Hasrat, Kayleigh Arp, Mei Ling Chu, Pieter-Kees C. M. de Groot, Marlies van Houten, Elisabeth A M Sanders, Debby Bogaert*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The respiratory tract is populated by a specialized microbial ecosystem, which is seeded during and directly following birth. Perturbed development of the respiratory microbial community in early-life has been associated with higher susceptibility to respiratory tract infections (RTIs). Given a consistent gap in time between first signs of aberrant microbial maturation and the observation of the first RTIs, we hypothesized that early-life host–microbe cross-talk plays a role in this process. We therefore investigated viral presence, gene expression profiles and nasopharyngeal microbiota from birth until 12 months of age in 114 healthy infants. We show that the strongest dynamics in gene expression profiles occurred within the first days of life, mostly involving Toll-like receptor (TLR) and inflammasome signalling. These gene expression dynamics coincided with rapid microbial niche differentiation. Early asymptomatic viral infection co-occurred with stronger interferon activity, which was related to specific microbiota dynamics following, including early enrichment of Moraxella and Haemophilus spp. These microbial trajectories were in turn related to a higher number of subsequent (viral) RTIs over the first year of life. Using a multi-omic approach, we found evidence for species-specific host–microbe interactions related to consecutive susceptibility to RTIs. Although further work will be needed to confirm causality of our findings, together these data indicate that early-life viral encounters could impact subsequent host–microbe cross-talk, which is linked to later-life infections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-237
JournalNature Microbiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2022


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