Background: Cystic fibrosis (CF) is characterised by reduced airway clearance, microbial accumulation, inflammation, and lung function decline. Certain bacterial species may contribute disproportionately to worsening lung disease. However, the relative importance of these microorganisms compared to the absolute abundance of all bacteria is uncertain. We aimed to identify the characteristics of lower airway microbiology that best reflect CF airway inflammation and disease in children. Methods: Analysis was performed on bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid from 78 participants of the Australasian CF Bronchoalveolar Lavage (ACFBAL) clinical trial, aged 4.5–5.5 years. Universal bacterial quantitative PCR (qPCR), species-specific qPCR, and 16S rRNA gene sequencing were performed on DNA extracts to determine total bacterial load, species-specific load and taxa relative abundance. Quantification of pre-specified pathogens was performed by culture-based methods. Bacteriological data were related to neutrophil counts, interleukin-8, lung function, and two computed-tomography based measures, CF-CT (as the primary measure) and PRAGMA. Results: Of all bacteriological measures assessed, total bacterial load determined by qPCR correlated most strongly with structural disease (CF-CT total score, rs=0.30, P=0.0095). Specifically, total bacterial load correlated with bronchiectasis, airway wall thickening, mucus plugging and parenchymal disease sub-scores. In contrast, culture-based quantification, microbiota-derived measures, and pathogen-specific qPCR-based quantification were weakly associated with total CF-CT. Regression analyses supported correlation findings, with total bacterial load explaining the greatest variance in total CF-CT (R2=0.097, P=0.0061). Correlations with PRAGMA score were comparable to CF-CT total score. Conclusions: Within the ACFBAL trial, culture-independent quantification of total bacteria provided the most clinically-informative bacteriological measure in 5-year-old CF patients.
- Bronchoalveolar lavage
- Computed tomography
- Quantitative polymerase chain reaction