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The role of the intestinal microbiota in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is being elucidated. Here, we analyzed the temporal changes in microbiota composition and the correlation between inflammation biomarkers/cytokines and microbiota in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. We obtained stool specimens, blood samples, and patient records from 22 hospitalized COVID-19 patients and performed 16S rRNA metagenomic analysis of stool samples over the course of disease onset compared to 40 healthy individual stool samples. We analyzed the correlation between the changes in the gut microbiota and plasma proinflammatory cytokine levels. Immediately after admission, differences in the gut microbiota were observed between COVID-19 patients and healthy subjects, mainly including enrichment of the classes Bacilli and Coriobacteriia and decrease in abundance of the class Clostridia. The bacterial profile continued to change throughout the hospitalization, with a decrease in short-chain fatty acid-producing bacteria including Faecalibacterium and an increase in the facultatively anaerobic bacteria Escherichia-Shigella. A consistent increase in Eggerthella belonging to the class Coriobacteriia was observed. The abundance of the class Clostridia was inversely correlated with interferon-γ level and that of the phylum Actinobacteria, which was enriched in COVID-19, and was positively correlated with gp130/sIL-6Rb levels. Dysbiosis was continued even after 21 days from onset. The intestines tended to be an aerobic environment in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Because the composition of the gut microbiota correlates with the levels of proinflammatory cytokines, this finding emphasizes the need to understand how pathology is related to the temporal changes in the specific gut microbiota observed in COVID-19 patients. IMPORTANCE There is growing evidence that the commensal microbiota of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts regulates local and systemic inflammation (gut-lung axis). COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease, but the involvement of microbiota changes in the pathogenesis of this disease remains unclear. The composition of the gut microbiota of patients with COVID-19 changed over time during hospitalization, and the intestines tended to be an aerobic environment in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. These changes in gut microbiota may induce increased intestinal permeability, called leaky gut, allowing bacteria and toxins to enter the circulatory system and further aggravate the systemic inflammatory response. Since gut microbiota composition correlates with levels of proinflammatory cytokines, this finding highlights the need to understand how pathology relates to the gut environment, including the temporal changes in specific gut microbiota observed in COVID-19 patients.

Original publication





Microbiology spectrum

Publication Date





Division of Infectious Diseases, Advanced Clinical Research Center, the Institute of Medical Science, The University of Tokyogrid.26999.3d, Tokyo, Japan.


Feces, Humans, Bacteria, Inflammation, RNA, Ribosomal, 16S, Cytokines, Hospitalization, Dysbiosis, Gastrointestinal Microbiome, COVID-19