Historically, the lungs have been considered sterile in health, but culture-independent techniques have now shown that the lower respiratory tract is home to a diverse microbial community: the lung microbiome. Increasingly, evidence has emerged that supports the concept that a distinct microbiota is present in the lower respiratory tract in both healthy and disease states.
Research into the lung microbiome is rapidly growing and revealing important discoveries about the microbiome’s association with respiratory disease. It is hoped that continued study of this field will provide new insights into the pathogenesis of lung diseases as well as the role the lung microbiota play in respiratory health. Analysis of the lung microbiome is mainly performed using bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), although spontaneously expectorated sputum is used to analyze cases of cystic fibrosis.
Studies of the lung microbiome in CF patients have also demonstrated the presence of previously unrecognized bacterial species that are potentially harmful and contributors to inflammation and destruction of the airways in CF.
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