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- ECOPHYSIOLOGY OF (PERI)ORAL BACTERIA AND IMPACT OF OTIC COLONIZATION
- Jacob, Kristin Marie
- Electronic Theses & Dissertations
The middle ear is typically assumed to be sterile in health due to its secluded location, closed off from external forces by the tympanic membrane (ear drum) and from the naso/oropharynx by a collapsed Eustachian tube. However, the periodic opening of the Eustachian tube to the naso/oropharyngeal space, which releases pressure across the eardrum and drains otic fluids, could introduce bacteria. Previous studies have tested for the presence of bacteria in the uninfected otic cavity using...
Show moreThe middle ear is typically assumed to be sterile in health due to its secluded location, closed off from external forces by the tympanic membrane (ear drum) and from the naso/oropharynx by a collapsed Eustachian tube. However, the periodic opening of the Eustachian tube to the naso/oropharyngeal space, which releases pressure across the eardrum and drains otic fluids, could introduce bacteria. Previous studies have tested for the presence of bacteria in the uninfected otic cavity using samples collected via invasive surgeries (through or around the eardrum). Findings from these studies are controversial due to contradictory results between studies, lack of critical experimental controls, and sampling of participants with underlying ailments (i.e., cochlear implant surgery) that could impact the microbiology of the otic mucosa. The studies reported herein bypass these limitations by using samples of otic secretions collectively non-invasively (through the mouth) in a cohort of healthy young adults. This dissertation describes cultivation-dependent methods to investigate the microbiology of the middle ear in health. The study used an IRB-approved protocol (#17-502) to collect otic secretions in order to 1) sequence their microbiome (contribution by Dr. Joo-Young Lee) and 2) recover in pure culture otic bacteria for further characterization (my contribution). As controls, we also collected buccal (top palate and inside of cheeks) and oropharyngeal swabs from each participant. Of the collected secretions, samples from 19 individuals were used for culture independent studies, while samples from the remaining 3 participants were subjected to culture dependent studies. 16S rRNA-V4 sequencing detected a diverse and distinct microbiome in otic secretions comprised primarily of strictly anaerobic bacteria belonging to the phyla Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes and Fusobacteria, and to a lesser extent facultative anaerobes (Streptococcus). I recovered from the otic, oropharyngeal, and buccal secretions 39 isolates of predominantly facultative anaerobes belonging to Firmicutes (Streptococcus and Staphylococcus), Actinobacteria (Micrococcus and Corynebacterium), and Proteobacteria (Neisseria) phyla, and used partial 16S rRNA amplicon sequences to demonstrate the distinct phylogenetic placement of otic streptococci compared to the oral ancestors (Chapter 2). This finding is consistent with the ecological diversification of oral streptococci once in the middle ear microenvironment. The recovery of streptococci and transient migrants (Staphylococcus, Neisseria, Micrococcus and Corynebacterium) from otic secretions prompted us to study the adaptive responses that give the streptococcal migrants a competitive advantage during the colonization of the middle ear (Chapter 3). For these studies, I sequenced and partially assembled the genomes of the otic isolates and used the full length 16S rRNA sequences for taxonomic demarcation at the species levels. Phylogenetic analyses demonstrated the oral ancestry of the otic streptococci, which retained from the otic adaptive traits critical for growth and reproduction in the middle ear mucosa (biofilm formation, mucolytic and proteolytic activity, robust growth under redox fluctuations, and fermentative production of lactate, a key metabolic intermediate in the otic trophic webs). These adaptive traits give oral streptococci a colonization advantage over competing (peri)oral migrants such as Staphylococcus. Furthermore, the otic streptococci inhibited the growth of otopathogens, including Staphylococcus aureus. These antagonistic interactions give streptococci a competitive advantage during the colonization of the middle ear and suggest a role for these commensals in promoting mucosal health. The ability of staphylococcal migrants to breach the middle ear mucosal barrier and cause infections prompted us to study the environmental factors that facilitate the spreading of staphylococci from the nasal to the middle ear mucosa. Allergies, respiratory maladies (cold, flu), or (peri)oral bacterial infections (sinus, adenoids, tonsils, etc.) lead to inflammation of the Eustachian tube and changes in the rheological properties of the otic mucus that increase the risk of infections. Thus, we examined the spreading of staphylococci on mucus-like viscous surfaces (semisolid agar plates). In Chapter 4, I show that mucins, the mucosal glycoproteins that control the viscosity and wettability of the mucus layer, induce the rapid spreading and dendritic expansion of clinical isolates closely related to S. aureus and Staphylococcus epidermidis but not of Staphylococcus hominis. Mucin glycosylation controlled the hydration of the mucoid surface and the ability of the cells to spread rapidly, in a process that was dependent on the secretion of surfactant-active, phenol-soluble modulins via the agr-quorum sensing two-component system. These results provide a plausible explanation for the rapid spreading of staphylococcal otopathogens from the nasopharynx to the middle ear through a swollen, and mucin-rich Eustachian tube. The work described in this dissertation provides much needed understanding of the adaptive responses that allow (peri)oral bacteria to colonize the middle ear. The studies add to the accumulating evidence that the middle ear mucosa is not sterile but rather harbors a commensal microbiota in health. These commensal community shares many metabolic similarities with ancestors in oral biofilms and retain adaptive traits critical for growth in the otic mucosa and inhibition of otopathogens. Additionally, this work identifies environmental factors that could contribute to staphylococcal virulence, broadening the understanding of newly identified motility phenotypes in the genus that could provide novel pharmaceutical targets.