The human microbiome plays important roles in health, but when disrupted, these same indigenous microbes can cause disease. The composition of the microbiome changes during the transition from health to disease; however, these changes are often not conserved among patients. Since microbiome-associated diseases like periodontitis cause similar patient symptoms despite interpatient variability in microbial community composition, we hypothesized that human-associated microbial communities undergo conserved changes in metabolism during disease. Here, we used patient-matched healthy and diseased samples to compare gene expression of 160,000 genes in healthy and diseased periodontal communities. We show that health- and disease-associated communities exhibit defined differences in metabolism that are conserved between patients. In contrast, the metabolic gene expression of individual species was highly variable between patients. These results demonstrate that despite high interpatient variability in microbial composition, disease-associated communities display conserved metabolic profiles that are generally accomplished by a patient-specific cohort of microbes.
The human microbiome project has shown that shifts in our microbiota are associated with many diseases, including obesity, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, and periodontitis. While changes in microbial populations are apparent during these diseases, the species associated with each disease can vary from patient to patient. Taking into account this interpatient variability, we hypothesized that specific microbiota-associated diseases would be marked by conserved microbial community behaviors. Here, we use gene expression analyses of patient-matched healthy and diseased human periodontal plaque to show that microbial communities have highly conserved metabolic gene expression profiles, whereas individual species within the community do not. Furthermore, disease-associated communities exhibit conserved changes in metabolic and virulence gene expression.