Review for "Meta Analysis Of Microbiome Studies Identifies Shared And Disease-Specific Patterns"

Completed on 9 Jun 2017 by Patrick Schloss . Sourced from

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Comments to author

My research group reviewed the preprint version of this manuscript on May 18, 2017 and we prepared this joint review.

The manuscript from Duvallet and colleagues seeks to create a database of case-control gut microbiome studies from 16S rRNA gene sequences and then use that database to look for consistent signatures of health and disease across a number of diseases. Overall, this is an interesting idea that is similar to an approach our lab and others have pursued to look across studies to identify signatures that are emblematic of lean or obese individuals. Unfortunately, the work has a number of technical problems and attempts to say too much without obtaining a full representation of data from the literature or incorporating the clinical nuances of the diseases they study.

Most of our concerns would overcome and the findings and impact of the paper would be greatly strengthened by testing the hypothesis that the core microbiome identified in Figure 3 is indeed sufficient enough to classify cases and controls across all of the studies. The authors should test the sensitivity/specificity of the core microbiome to successfully classify general disease and control cases across studies. If the hypothesis is that there is a core microbiome that is common to all diseases then the predictive accuracy of models using these core members should be relatively successful in finding generalized disease microbiomes regardless of whether it is cancer, obesity, diarrhea, etc. Even if the model is not generalizable across all diseases, it would be important to know whether a model for a single disease group is predictive of controls and cases within that disease group. Again, this was an approach that we used with Random Forest modeling to use one study to predict obesity status in other studies.

In the re-analysis of the CDI data, we are concerned that the non-CDI diarrheal controls have been grouped with the healthy controls (Figure 2). That seems to be the case at least for the study from our lab referenced- Schubert - as our study had 94 CDI cases, 89 diarrheal controls and 155 non-diarrheal controls. Thus the number of 243 controls (Table 1) would appear to represent a pooling of the diarrheal and non-diarrheal controls. We would suggest instead only using the diarrheal controls. We would strongly encourage the authors to confirm for each disease group that the control samples are similar across all studies.

Similar to the concern over the data used for the Schubert CDI data, the definition of ‘cases’ may need reconsidering for some diseases - what is a case for an HIV patient, for instance? Actively replicating virus? Reduced CD4 count? People that are HIV positive are often quite healthy with no detectable viral load. Similarly, IBD encompasses a range of bowel diseases and a ‘case’ of UC is different from a ‘case’ of Crohn’s. Further, a note or clarification of whether any of these patients were on antibiotics (and if this could be a confounding factor) is necessary.

When testing and generating the ‘core’ microbiome across all diseases, we wonder whether testing for the core falsely amplified the CDI-related microbes in the pan-disease core because there were so many that were altered in cases? Similarly, we wondered how the authors could control for the variation in effect sizes when generating the list of core microbes? We would encourage something like a Z-transform like was used in the Sze and Schloss obesity meta-analysis

The ROC curves appeared to be inverted in the case of Dinh 2015 (supplemental figure 5). This can result from inverted categories, and can make the resulting AUC artificially appear lower than 0.5. We suggest the authors recalculate the AUCs from inverse ROC curves, so that all AUCs are between 0.5 and 1. In addition, the 0.5 AUC line only matters if one has an equal number of cases and controls - kappa - corrects for distribution in data. If 90% of the samples are cases, then one would expect to be correct 90% of the time, not 50.

Although the authors picked datasets that specifically dealt with the disease they were interested in, there are a number of other datasets that were not included but could have easily been added. For example, we found 10 studies that included obesity data with their sequence data. The control samples used in the Schubert and Baxter studies from the Schloss lab could also be used to look at the effects of obesity.

The authors should also note that the samples used in the Zackular study are a subset of Baxter and so the studies are not independent.

Comments on overall writing style:

Overall we felt that the paper’s organization and purpose is unclear. For instance, in the abstract, “Here, we introduce the MicrobiomeHD database, which includes 29 published case-control gut microbiome studies spanning ten different diseases" - Is this paper about the database? This database is hardly mentioned in the rest of the paper and the reader needs more details about how database was formed. Furthermore, the database does not appear to be comprehensive and there is no indication of whether the database will continue to be maintained over time. Alternatively, is the paper about the ‘core’ microbiome being able to predict healthy/disease? If so then it needs a direct test of this hypothesis. Is the paper about re-analyzing and confirming the findings of previous studies? Or by doing a true meta-analysis where the effect sizes are compared across studies? If either of those are true then the paper needs to be structured and concluded in a way that emphasizes those conclusions. The current version is a bit muddled in its structure and purpose.

It is oversimplifying the complex nature of the diseases to classify treatment therapies into antibiotics, probiotics or FMT. Each of these therapies can be affected by differences between human patients. At the very least, the discussion should include more caveats about these treatments particularly there are a few studies showing negative effects of antibiotic use and long-term development of colorectal cancer (Cao et al 2017) as well as studies showing manipulating the gut microbiome in mice via fecal transplants can spur the development of CRC tumors in a mouse tumorigenesis model (Zackular et al 2015).