Changes of the human skin microbiota upon chronic exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon pollutants

Marcus H.Y. Leung, Xinzhao Tong, Philippe Bastien, Florent Guinot, Arthur Tenenhaus, Brice M.R. Appenzeller, Richard J. Betts, Sakina Mezzache, Jing Li, Nasrine Bourokba, Lionel Breton, Cécile Clavaud, Patrick K.H. Lee*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are of environmental and public health concerns and contribute to adverse skin attributes such as premature skin aging and pigmentary disorder. However, little information is available on the potential roles of chronic urban PAH pollutant exposure on the cutaneous microbiota. Given the roles of the skin microbiota have on healthy and undesirable skin phenotypes and the relationships between PAHs and skin properties, we hypothesize that exposure of PAHs may be associated with changes in the cutaneous microbiota. In this study, the skin microbiota of over two hundred Chinese individuals from two cities in China with varying exposure levels of PAHs were characterized by bacterial and fungal amplicon and shotgun metagenomics sequencing. Results: Skin site and city were strong parameters in changing microbial communities and their assembly processes. Reductions of bacterial-fungal microbial network structural integrity and stability were associated with skin conditions (acne and dandruff). Multivariate analysis revealed associations between abundances of Propionibacterium and Malassezia with host properties and pollutant exposure levels. Shannon diversity increase was correlated to exposure levels of PAHs in a dose-dependent manner. Shotgun metagenomics analysis of samples (n = 32) from individuals of the lowest and highest exposure levels of PAHs further highlighted associations between the PAHs quantified and decrease in abundances of skin commensals and increase in oral bacteria. Functional analysis identified associations between levels of PAHs and abundance of microbial genes of metabolic and other pathways with potential importance in host-microbe interactions as well as degradation of aromatic compounds. Conclusions: The results in this study demonstrated the changes in composition and functional capacities of the cutaneous microbiota associated with chronic exposure levels of PAHs. Findings from this study will aid the development of strategies to harness the microbiota in protecting the skin against pollutants. [MediaObject not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Article number100
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Sequencing
  • Skin microbiota
  • Urban pollution


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