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 Once again a study looked at biofilms in sinuses - but this time in the sinuses of healthy people and not those with sinusitis. Various different species of bacteria and small size "microcolonies" or biofilms were found in the healthy maxillary sinuses of all 30 people - so yes, it appears that the presence of biofilms in the sinuses is normal in healthy people. And yes, the presence of bacteria (even some low levels of species which are typically associated with sinusitis) are normally found in the sinuses of healthy people.  (Earlier research also found this last finding.)

The researchers state that it is normal for people to have "small size bacterial microcolonies" (of different kinds of bacteria) in the sinuses. The researchers theorized that the biofilms are probably "in equilibrium" under the influence of  "inhibiting defensive factors of the body", but they can become a source of infection if there are favorable conditions (such as illness). In other words, the researchers said that these biofilms are more like "bacteria films" in that they contain bacteria, but they live in small colonies that don't cause an inflammatory response with sinusitis symptoms.

One negative of this study was that advanced genetic sequencing was not done on the samples. Instead all samples taken from the people were cultured, which we now know misses a lot of bacterial and other microbial species (fungi, viruses). They looked at the microcolonies (biofilms) with scanning microscopes. Thus, while they found an assortment of bacteria on the sinuses of each person - they only found a total of 41 bacterial species among 30 persons. This is in contrast to studies using modern genetic sequencing that found hundreds of microbial species in healthy sinus microbiomes (microbial communities).

The other issue is that it is not clear to me if there were biofilms or  microcolonies that contained "beneficial" species in any of the samples. Other research suggests that biofilms of beneficial bacteria are also found in humans, and that this is one way beneficial bacteria that normally can't survive with exposure to oxygen can survive oxygen (the slime coating on the colony protects the bacteria within).

Other studies also stress that in healthy people there is "homeostasis" or "equilibrium" among all the microbes living in the sinuses, - a microbial community (which includes biofilms), and which helps maintain sinus health. See post with discussion of Mackenzie et al 2017 study: "A stable network of microbial interactions, established through processes such as niche competition, nutrient cycling, immune evasion, and biofilm formation help maintain homeostasis during health." But, as has been usual in recent sinus research, the current study also stated that much is unknown, that there are theories which are not yet proven one way or another, and more research needs to be done. Of course.... From  PLoS ONE:

The presence of bacterial microcolonies on the maxillary sinus ciliary epithelium in healthy young individuals

The aim of this cross-sectional in vitro study was to evaluate the mucosal surfaces of healthy maxillary sinuses, explore different forms of bacterial microorganism colonies present on the mucous membrane, and determine a mucosal surface area they occupy. Samples of the maxillary sinus mucosa were collected from 30 healthy patients (M = 11; F = 19). The material was obtained during the Le Fort I osteotomy performed during corrective jaw surgery. The morphological and morphometric analysis of sinus mucosa and bacterial film that was grown on it was performed using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) as well as imaging software.

Scanning electron microscopy analysis showed the presence of different bacterium and bacteria-like structures in all the analyzed samples. In most cases, the bacterial film was mostly composed of diplococci-like and streptococci-like structures on the mucosa of the paranasal sinus. In any case, the mucous layer did not cover the whole lining of the evaluated sample. Each colony consists of more than 20 single bacterial cells, which has grown in aggregates.

Under the conditions of normal homeostasis of the body, the maxillary sinuses present diverse bacterial colonization. The bacteria are dispersed or concentrated in single microcolonies of the biofilm on the border of the mucous covering the ciliary epithelium. There is no uniform layer of the biofilm covering the mucosa of the maxillary sinuses. Because the biofilm is detected on healthy individuals sinus mucosa, the clinical question if it may become pathogenic is unclear and require an explanation.

It should also be noted that pathogenic organisms, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, or Staphylococcus aureus can be found in patients without active symptoms of the disease. Usually, colonization is defined as the presence of bacteria on the mucous membrane, and the lack of the inflammatory response distinguishes it from an infection.

However, the bacteria film in contrast to typical biofilm might be defined by the presence of bacteria, that growth in colonies without inducing the inflammatory response. Thus, the aim of the study was to evaluate the mucosal surfaces of the healthy maxillary sinuses (without any history of recent acute sinus inflammations or chronic inflammation in the past), to identify different forms of bacterial microorganisms which could, under certain conditions, become opportunistic or pathogenic and determine a mucosal surface of the area they occupy.

Scanning electron microscope investigations revealed the presence of bacterial film on the surface of maxillary sinus mucosa in 30 patients. Moreover, microbiological examinations of specimens taken from study participants revealed the presence of various types of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria in 28 cases (93.34%) out of 30 studied samples. All samples had mixed flora. In total, 41 different microorganisms were isolated. The most frequently found microorganism was Streptococcus spp. in over 90% of all samples, while Propionibacterium acnes were present in 29,2% of samples, and Staphylococcus spp. was present in 17% of the samples.

Scanning electron microscopy analysis showed that the mucous layer has a thickness of 200 nm (± 40), which is covered up to 5% of the surface of each sample. The analysis showed the presence of bacteria-like microcolony structures in all analyzed samples.....Each colony consisted of more than 20 single bacterial cells, that had grown in aggregates. These clearly indicate the existence of a bacterial-like microcolony on maxillary sinus mucosa.

thumbnailScanning electron microscopy images of biofilms seen on the mucosal surface of the healthy paranasal sinus mucosa. See spherical structures related to Haemophilus influenzae (Fig B and D). Credit: Morawska-Kochman et al 

New research that found that microbial communities vary between the sinuses in a person with chronic sinusitis. This is a result that many sinusitis sufferers already suspect based on their sinusitis symptoms. The researchers also found that bacterial communities in the sinuses vary between people with chronic sinusitis. It is frustrating though for me to read study after study where the researchers focus on describing the types of bacteria found in chronic sinusitis sufferers (and then just saying that the sinus microbiomes or community of microbes vary from person to person) rather than studies comparing the sinus microbiomes (bacteria and other microbes, such as fungi) between healthy individuals and sinusitis sufferers.

Since research finds that sinusitis sufferers have altered sinus microbiomes, then what would be really helpful now is finding more beneficial or keystone species (besides Lactobacillus sakei) that are needed for healthy sinus microbiomes. This would be an important step towards then adding (perhaps using a nasal spray) these missing microbes to the sinus microbiome. From Frontiers in Microbiology:

Bacterial communities vary between sinuses in chronic rhinosinusitis patients

ABSTRACT: Chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) is a common and potentially debilitating disease characterized by inflammation of the sinus mucosa for longer than 12 weeks. Bacterial colonization of the sinuses and its role in the pathogenesis of this disease is an ongoing area of research. Recent advances in culture-independent molecular techniques for bacterial identification have the potential to provide a more accurate and complete assessment of the sinus microbiome, however there is little concordance in results between studies, possibly due to differences in the sampling location and techniques. This study aimed to determine whether the microbial communities from one sinus could be considered representative of all sinuses, and examine differences between two commonly used methods for sample collection, swabs and tissue biopsies. High-throughput DNA sequencing of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene was applied to both swab and tissue samples from multiple sinuses of 19 patients undergoing surgery for treatment of CRS. Results from swabs and tissue biopsies showed a high degree of similarity, indicating that swabbing is sufficient to recover the microbial community from the sinuses. Microbial communities from different sinuses within individual patients differed to varying degrees, demonstrating that it is possible for distinct microbiomes to exist simultaneously in different sinuses of the same patient. The sequencing results correlated well with culture-based pathogen identification conducted in parallel, although the culturing missed many species detected by sequencing. This finding has implications for future research into the sinus microbiome, which should take this heterogeneity into account by sampling patients from more than one sinus. It may also be of clinical importance, as determination of antibiotic sensitivities using culture of a swab from a single sinus could miss relevant pathogens that are localized to another sinus.

CRS can be a debilitating condition that is recalcitrant to treatment. Bacterial colonization of the sinuses is likely to play an important role in the pathogenesis and perpetuation of the disease; however different studies have yielded contrasting results with respect to which bacterial taxa are characteristic of the disease (ref). We observed bacterial communities dominated by different taxa in CRS patients; for example some have sinuses colonized primarily with Haemophilus, while others are dominated by Corynebacterium and Staphylococcus, or Pseudomonas. Some patients’ sinuses contain anaerobic bacteria such as Anaerococcus, Finegoldia, and Peptoniphilus, while these were absent from others. Indeed, our results have shown, for the first time, that it is possible for a patient to simultaneously have different bacterial communities in different sinuses, pointing to distinct, localized microbiomes within the same patient. Understanding this variation in the sinus microbiome could prove critical to the appropriate selection of treatments for CRS in the future.

The weighted unifrac distances between samples within patients (Figure 1) demonstrate that at least some CRS patients have substantial variation of bacterial communities between sinuses, although it is significantly smaller than the variation observed between different individuals. While this variation was related to abundance rather than the presence or absence of dominant community members, some of these variations were large: for example Corynebacterium sequences dominating the right sinuses of patient 003 (60.7 and 41.7% of all sequences), while the left sinuses had much smaller abundances (9.8 and 6.2%) and were dominated by the anaerobic bacteria Anaerococcus, Finegoldia  and Peptinophillus.

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 Just wanted to say that I added an October 2016 update to the post The One Probiotic That Treats Sinusitis, which was originally posted in January 2015.  The update incorporates the latest information about treatments and products with Lactobacillus sakei  (kimchi brands, the sausage starter culture Bactoferm F-RM-52, and Lactopy Prime). According to research by Abreu et al (2012)Lactobacillus sakei is a bacteria or probiotic (beneficial bacteria) that chronic sinusitis sufferers lack and which treats chronic sinusitis. Chronic sinusitis sufferers also don't have the bacteria diversity in the sinuses that healthy people have.

Many thanks to those who have written to me about their experiences with L. sakei products and sinusitis treatment.  Please keep the updates, results, and progress reports coming. If you have had success with other kimchi brands, please let me know so that I can add it to the list. And I also want to hear if other probiotics work or don't work, or if you have found other sources of Lactobacillus sakei or new ways to use L. sakei. It all adds to the knowledge base which I will continue to update.  You can Comment after posts, the Sinus Treatment Summary page, on the CONTACT page, or write me privately (see CONTACT page).

It is now over 2 1/2 years since my family (4 people) successfully treated ourselves with Lactobacillu sakei for chronic sinusitis and acute sinusitis. We feel great! With each passing year we can tell that our sinus microbial community is bettter, and levels of inflammation are down. As a consequence, we are getting fewer colds or viruses than ever. And best of all - no antibiotics taken in over 2 1/2 years! Yes, Lactobacillus sakei absolutely works as a treatment for sinusitis.

Read the updated post: The One Probiotic That Treats Sinusitis (with October 2016 update)