PloS one 2017 07 2712(7) e0181994 doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0181994
Buruli ulcer (BU) is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans and considered the third most prevalent mycobacterial disease in humans. Secondary bacterial infections in open BU lesions are the main cause of pain, delayed healing and systemic illness, resulting in prolonged hospital stay. Thus, understanding the diversity of bacteria, termed the microbiome, in these open lesions is important for proper treatment. However, adequately studying the human microbiome in a clinical setting can prove difficult when investigating a neglected tropical skin disease due to its rarity and the setting.
Using 16S rRNA sequencing, we determined the microbial composition of 5 BU lesions, 3 non-BU lesions and 3 healthy skin samples. Although no significant differences in diversity were found between BU and non-BU lesions, the former were characterized by an increase of Bacteroidetes compared to the non-BU wounds and the BU lesions also contained significantly more obligate anaerobes. With this molecular-based study, we were also able to detect bacteria that were missed by culture-based methods in previous BU studies.
Our study suggests that BU may lead to changes in the skin bacterial community within the lesions. However, in order to determine if such changes hold true across all BU cases and are either a cause or consequence of a specific wound environment, further microbiome studies are necessary. Such skin microbiome analysis requires large sample sizes and lesions from the same body site in many patients, both of which can be difficult for a rare disease. Our study proposes a pipeline for such studies and highlights several drawbacks that must be considered if microbiome analysis is to be utilized for neglected tropical diseases.