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Metagenomic next-generation sequencing of nasopharyngeal specimens collected from confirmed and suspect COVID-19 patients


Date: 20th November 2020 | Source: Clinical Science and Epidemiology

Authors: Heba H. Mostafa, John A. Fissel, Brian Fanelli, Yehudit Bergman, Victoria Gniazdowski, Manoj Dadlani, Karen C. Carroll, Rita R. Colwell, Patricia J. Simner.

Metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS) offers an agnostic approach for emerging pathogen detection directly from clinical specimens. In contrast to targeted methods, mNGS also provides valuable information on the composition of the microbiome and might uncover coinfections that may associate with disease progression and impact prognosis.

To evaluate the use of mNGS for detecting severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and/or other infecting pathogens, we applied direct Oxford Nanopore long-read third-generation metatranscriptomic and metagenomic sequencing.

Nasopharyngeal (NP) swab specimens from 50 patients under investigation for CoV disease 2019 (COVID-19) were sequenced, and the data were analyzed by the CosmosID bioinformatics platform. Further, we characterized coinfections and the microbiome associated with a four-point severity index.

SARS-CoV-2 was identified in 77.5% (31/40) of samples positive by RT-PCR, correlating with lower cycle threshold (Ct) values and fewer days from symptom onset. At the time of sampling, possible bacterial or viral coinfections were detected in 12.5% of SARS-CoV-2-positive specimens. A decrease in microbial diversity was observed among COVID-19-confirmed patients (Shannon diversity index, P = 0.0082; Chao richness estimate, P = 0.0097; Simpson diversity index, P = 0.018), and differences in microbial communities were linked to disease severity (P = 0.022). Furthermore, statistically significant shifts in the microbiome were identified among SARS-CoV-2-positive and -negative patients, in the latter of whom a higher abundance of Propionibacteriaceae (P = 0.028) and a reduction in the abundance of Corynebacterium accolens (P = 0.025) were observed.

Our study corroborates the growing evidence that increased SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection from NP swabs is associated with the early stages rather than the severity of COVID-19. Further, we demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 causes a significant change in the respiratory microbiome. This work illustrates the utility of mNGS for the detection of SARS-CoV-2, for diagnosing coinfections without viral target enrichment or amplification, and for the analysis of the respiratory microbiome.

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