Gut phages may be involved in the development of asthma - Study

Some studies suggest that gut phages may be involved in the development of asthma. The gut-lung axis and the microbiome are important factors in the origin and persistence of asthma. The gut microbiota contains between 1000 and 5000 species of bacteria, and gut colonization with Bifidobacterium infantis has been shown to lower atopic asthma symptoms in mice. Specific temperate gut phage taxa have been associated with the later development of asthma, independently of the bacterial hosts of the phages [1, 2].

Recently, new research suggests that the viruses in our gut, specifically “temperate phages,” may play a role in the development of childhood asthma. This study, published in Nature Medicine, delves into the complex relationship between the gut virome, bacteriome (bacteria), and host genetics in shaping the risk of asthma [3].

Key findings

  • Virome analysis of 647 children at one year of age revealed specific temperate phage taxa associated with later asthma development.
  • Combining the asthma-linked signatures of the gut virome and bacteriome demonstrated even greater risk prediction, suggesting an independent role for phages.
  • The TLR9 gene variant (rs187084) influenced the virome’s impact on asthma risk, highlighting a potential genetic link.
  • Children with asthma exhibited distinct gut virome compositions compared to healthy children, with relative abundance of temperate phages being particularly relevant.
  • While some correlation exists between the virome and bacteriome, the study suggests phages likely exert their influence on asthma risk independently of bacterial effects.


This research opens new avenues for understanding asthma development and exploring potential preclinical biomarkers using phages, alongside bacteria and genetics. Further investigation is needed to elucidate the precise mechanisms by which phages interact with the immune system and contribute to asthma pathogenesis.

Overall, this study provides exciting new insights into the role of the gut virome in early life and its potential impact on childhood asthma. By unraveling these complex interactions, we may pave the way for novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for asthma and other immune-mediated diseases.

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What Is Gut phages?

Gut phages, short for bacteriophages, are viruses that specifically infect and target bacteria. They are incredibly abundant in the human gut, making up the vast majority of the viruses found there. While often thought of as harmful, gut phages actually play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.

Here’s a breakdown of the key points about gut phages:

There are two main types of gut phages: lytic and temperate. Lytic phages kill the bacteria they infect, while temperate phages can integrate their DNA into the bacterial genome and become prophages, replicating along with the bacteria.

Gut phages help regulate the bacterial population in the gut, preventing any one species from becoming too dominant. They also contribute to the diversity of the gut microbiome, which is essential for overall gut health. Additionally, some phages carry genes that can benefit the bacteria they infect, such as genes for antibiotic resistance or nutrient acquisition.

Recent research suggests that gut phages may play a role in various health conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and even asthma. This is an exciting area of research with the potential to lead to new therapeutic approaches for these conditions.

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