Analysis of the tonsillar microbiome in young adults with sore throat reveals a high relative abundance of Fusobacterium necrophorum with low diversity

Academic Article


  • Fusobacterium necrophorum (Fn), a gram-negative anaerobe, is increasingly implicated as an etiologic agent in older adolescents and young adults with sore throat. Inadequately treated Fn pharyngitis may result in suppurative complications such as peritonsillar abscess and Lemierre’s syndrome. Data from the literature suggest that the incidence of life-threat-ing complications in these age groups from Fn pharyngitis (Lemierre’s syndrome) in the United States exceeds those associated with group A beta-hemolytic streptococcal (GAS) pharyngitis (acute rheumatic fever). Using real-time PCR, we previously reported about a 10% prevalence of Fn in asymptomatic medical students and about 20% in students complaining of sore throat at a university student health clinic (p = 0.009). In this study, a comprehensive microbiome analysis of the same study samples confirms that Fn pharyngitis was more common than GAS pharyngitis. Eighteen patients were found to have Fn OTU values exceeding an arbitrary cutoff value of 0.1, i.e. greater than 10% of total sequences, with five subjects reaching values above 0.7. By contrast only 9 patients had GAS OTU values greater than 0.1 and none exceeded 0.6. When the data were analyzed using five separate assessments of alpha diversity, in each case for Fn there were statistically significant differences between Fn positive_high (OTU abundance > 0.1) vs control, Fn positive_high vs Fn negative (OTU abundance = 0), Fn positive_high vs Fn positive_low (OTU abundance > 0 and < 0.1). When the data were analyzed using three beta diversity indexes (Bray-Curtis, weighted unifrac, and unweighted unifrac), there were statistically significant differences between Fn positive_high (OTU abundance 0.1) vs control for all three. Statistically significant differences remained if we chose somewhat different OTU abundance cutoffs of 0.05 or 0.15. We conclude that Fn appears to play a dominant role in bacterial pharyngitis in the older adolescent and young adult age groups and that the development of a productive mucosal infection with Fn is linked to a significant decrease in the diversity of the associated tonsillar microbiome.
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  • PLoS One  Journal
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    Author List

  • Prescott Atkinson T; Centor RM; Xiao L; Wang F; Cui X; Der Pol WV; Morrow CD; Ratliff AE; Crabb DM; Totten AH