Gut microbiota dynamics in a prospective cohort of patients with post-acute COVID-19 syndrome
Background Long-term complications after COVID-19 are common, but the potential cause for persistent symptoms after viral clearance remains unclear.
Objective To investigate whether gut microbiome composition is linked to post-acute COVID-19 syndrome (PACS), defined as at least one persistent symptom 4 weeks after clearance of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Methods We conducted a prospective study of 106 patients with a spectrum of COVID-19 severity followed up from admission to 6 months and 68 non-COVID-19 controls. We analysed serial faecal microbiome of 258 samples using shotgun metagenomic sequencing, and correlated the results with persistent symptoms at 6 months.
Results At 6 months, 76% of patients had PACS and the most common symptoms were fatigue, poor memory and hair loss. Gut microbiota composition at admission was associated with occurrence of PACS. Patients without PACS showed recovered gut microbiome profile at 6 months comparable to that of non-COVID-19 controls. Gut microbiome of patients with PACS were characterised by higher levels of Ruminococcus gnavus, Bacteroides vulgatus and lower levels of Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. Persistent respiratory symptoms were correlated with opportunistic gut pathogens, and neuropsychiatric symptoms and fatigue were correlated with nosocomial gut pathogens, including Clostridium innocuum and Actinomyces naeslundii (all p<0.05). Butyrate-producing bacteria, including Bifidobacterium pseudocatenulatum and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii showed the largest inverse correlations with PACS at 6 months.
Conclusion These findings provided observational evidence of compositional alterations of gut microbiome in patients with long-term complications of COVID-19. Further studies should investigate whether microbiota modulation can facilitate timely recovery from post-acute COVID-19 syndrome.