The Fungal Gut Microbiome Exhibits Reduced Diversity and Increased Relative Abundance of Ascomycota in Severe COVID-19 Illness and Distinct Interconnected Communities in SARS-CoV-2 Positive Patients

Clinical and experimental studies indicate that the bacterial and fungal gut microbiota modulates immune responses in distant organs including the lungs. Immune dysregulation is associated with severe SARS-CoV-2 infection, and several groups have observed gut bacterial dysbiosis in SARS-CoV-2 infected patients, while the fungal gut microbiota remains poorly defined in these patients. We analyzed the fungal gut microbiome from rectal swabs taken prior to anti-infective treatment in 30 SARS-CoV-2 positive (21 non-severe COVID-19 and 9 developing severe/critical COVID-19 patients) and 23 SARS-CoV-2 negative patients by ITS2-sequencing. Pronounced but distinct interconnected fungal communities distinguished SARS-CoV-2 positive and negative patients. Fungal gut microbiota in severe/critical COVID-19 illness was characterized by a reduced diversity, richness and evenness and by an increase of the relative abundance of the Ascomycota phylum compared with non-severe COVID-19 illness. A dominance of a single fungal species with a relative abundance of >75% was a frequent feature in severe/critical COVID-19. The dominating fungal species were highly variable between patients even within the groups. Several fungal taxa were depleted in patients with severe/critical COVID-19.The distinct compositional changes of the fungal gut microbiome in SARS-CoV-2 infection, especially in severe COVID-19 illness, illuminate the necessity of a broader approach to investigate whether the differences in the fungal gut microbiome are consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection or a predisposing factor for critical illness.


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