Maturing microbiomes: Julia Oh discusses the age-dependent differences between human skin microbiomes
The human microbiome, referring to the collective genomes of the diverse array of microbes that live on the human body, varies from one anatomical region to another, as well as over time and with health status. From infancy to adulthood the human skin, which plays host to many microbial communities, undergoes marked physiological changes. It is suggested that these changes may affect the microbiome. An understanding of the adult skin microbiome in health and disease may therefore not be as applicable to children. Julia Oh, postdoctoral fellow at the National Human Genome Research Institute, Maryland, and colleagues compared skin microbial communities in healthy children and adults to uncover just how different these microbiomes may be, as published in a recent study in Genome Medicine. This exceptional article won BioMed Central’s Research Award for Microbiology, Immunology, Infection and Inflammation (read more about this in Award winning research). Oh explained their surprising findings and discussed the potential implications.
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Shifts in human skin and nares microbiota of healthy children and adults
Characterization of the topographical and temporal diversity of the microbial collective (microbiome) hosted by healthy human skin established a reference for studying disease-causing microbiomes.
Physiologic changes occur in the skin as humans mature from infancy to adulthood. Thus, characterizations of adult microbiomes might have limitations when considering pediatric disorders such as atopic dermatitis (AD) or issues such as sites of microbial carriage. The objective of this study was to determine if microbial communities at several body sites in children differed significantly from adults.
Using 16S-rRNA gene sequencing technology, we characterized and compared the bacterial communities of four body sites in relation to Tanner stage of human development. Body sites sampled included skin sites characteristically involved in AD (antecubital/popliteal fossae), a control skin site (volar forearm), and the nares. Twenty-eight healthy individuals aged from 2 to 40 years were evaluated at the outpatient dermatology clinic in the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Center. Exclusion criteria included the use of systemic antibiotics within 6 months, current/prior chronic skin disorders, asthma, allergic rhinitis, or other chronic medical conditions.
Bacterial communities in the nares of children (Tanner developmental stage 1) differed strikingly from adults (Tanner developmental stage 5). Firmicutes (Streptococcaceae), Bacteroidetes, and Proteobacteria (β, γ) were overrepresented in Tanner 1 compared to Tanner 5 individuals, where Corynebacteriaceae and Propionibacteriaceae predominated. While bacterial communities were significantly different between the two groups in all sites, the most marked microbial shifts were observed in the nares, a site that can harbor pathogenic species, including Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumonia.
Significant shifts in the microbiota associated with progressive sexual maturation as measured by Tanner staging suggest that puberty-dependent shifts in the skin and nares microbiomes may have significant implications regarding prevention and treatment of pediatric disorders involving microbial pathogens and colonization.