Impact of Long-Term Erythromycin Therapy on the Oropharyngeal Microbiome and Resistance Gene Reservoir in Non-Cystic Fibrosis Bronchiectasis

Jocelyn Choo, Guy Abell, Rachel Thomson, Lucy Morgan, Grant Waterer, David Gordon, Steven Taylor, Lex Leong, Steven Wesselingh, Lucy Burr, Geraint Rogers

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36 Citations (Scopus)


Long-term macrolide therapy reduces rates of pulmonary exacerbation in bronchiectasis. However, little is known about the potential for macrolide therapy to alter the composition and function of the oropharyngeal commensal microbiota or to increase the carriage of transmissible antimicrobial resistance. We assessed the effect of long-term erythromycin on oropharyngeal microbiota composition and the carriage of transmissible macrolide resistance genes in 84 adults with bronchiectasis, enrolled in the Bronchiectasis and Low-dose Erythromycin Study (BLESS) 48-week placebo-controlled trial of twice-daily erythromycin ethylsuccinate (400 mg). Oropharyngeal microbiota composition and macrolide resistance gene carriage were determined by 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing and quantitative PCR, respectively. Long-term erythromycin treatment was associated with a significant increase in the relative abundance of oropharyngeal Haemophilus parainfluenzae (P = 0.041) and with significant decreases in the relative abundances of Streptococcus pseudopneumoniae (P = 0.024) and Actinomyces odontolyticus (P = 0.027). Validation of the sequencing results by quantitative PCR confirmed a significant decrease in the abundance of Actinomyces spp. (P = 0.046). Erythromycin treatment did not result in a significant increase in the number of subjects who carried erm(A), erm(B), erm(C), erm(F), mef(A/E), and msrA macrolide resistance genes. However, the abundance of erm(B) and mef(A/E) gene copies within carriers who had received erythromycin increased significantly (P < 0.05). Our findings indicate that changes in oropharyngeal microbiota composition resulting from long-term erythromycin treatment are modest and are limited to a discrete group of taxa. Associated increases in levels of transmissible antibiotic resistance genes within the oropharyngeal microbiota highlight the potential for this microbial system to act as a reservoir for resistance.IMPORTANCE Recent demonstrations that long-term macrolide therapy can prevent exacerbations in chronic airways diseases have led to a dramatic increase in their use. However, little is known about the wider, potentially adverse impacts of these treatments. Substantial disruption of the upper airway commensal microbiota might reduce its contribution to host defense and local immune regulation, while increases in macrolide resistance carriage would represent a serious public health concern. Using samples from a randomized controlled trial, we show that low-dose erythromycin given over 48 weeks influences the composition of the oropharyngeal commensal microbiota. We report that macrolide therapy is associated with significant changes in the relative abundances of members of the Actinomyces genus and with significant increases in the carriage of transmissible macrolide resistance. Determining the clinical significance of these changes, relative to treatment benefit, now represents a research priority.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00103-18
Number of pages12
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Macrolide therapy
  • Oropharyngeal microbiome


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