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Background: The airway microbiome in severe asthma has not been characterised at species-level by metagenomic sequencing, nor have the relationships between specific species and mucosal immune responses in ‘type-2 low’, neutrophilic asthma been defined. We performed an integrated species-level metagenomic data with inflammatory mediators to characterise prevalence of dominant potentially pathogenic organisms and host immune responses. Methods: Sputum and nasal lavage samples were analysed using long-read metagenomic sequencing with Nanopore and qPCR in two cross-sectional adult severe asthma cohorts, Wessex (n=66) and Oxford (n=30). We integrated species-level data with clinical parameters and 39 selected airway proteins measured by immunoassay and O-link. Results: The sputum microbiome in health and mild asthma displayed comparable microbial diversity. By contrast, 23% (19/81) of severe asthma microbiomes were dominated by a single respiratory pathogen, namely H. influenzae (n=10), M. catarrhalis (n=4), S. pneumoniae (n=4) and P. aeruginosa (n=1). Neutrophilic asthma was associated with H. influenzae, M. catarrhalis, S. pneumoniae and T. whipplei with elevated type-1 cytokines and proteases; eosinophilic asthma with higher M. catarrhalis, but lower H. influenzae, and S. pneumoniae abundance. H. influenzae load correlated with Eosinophil Cationic Protein, elastase and IL-10. R. mucilaginosa associated positively with IL-6 and negatively with FGF. Bayesian network analysis also revealed close and distinct relationships of H. influenzae and M. catarrhalis with type-1 airway inflammation. The microbiomes and cytokine milieu were distinct between upper and lower airways. Conclusions: This species-level integrated analysis reveals central, but distinct associations between potentially pathogenic bacteria and airways inflammation in severe asthma.


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microbiome, cytokine, asthma, bacteria, sputum