Mechanically ventilated patients are at risk of contracting pneumonia. Therefore, these patients often receive prophylactic systemic antimicrobial therapy. Intriguingly however, a previous study showed that antimicrobial activity in bronchoalveolar aspirates (here referred to as "sputa") from ventilated patients was only partially explained by antibiotic therapy. Here we report that sputa from these patients presented distinct proteome signatures depending on the presence or absence of antimicrobial activity. Moreover, we show that the same distinction applied to antibodies against Streptococcus pneumoniae, which is a major causative agent of pneumonia. Specifically, the investigated sputa that inhibited growth of S. pneumoniae, while containing subinhibitory levels of the antibiotic cefotaxime, presented elevated levels of proteins implicated in innate immune defenses, including complement and apolipoprotein-associated proteins. In contrast, S. pneumoniae-inhibiting sputa with relatively high cefotaxime concentrations or noninhibiting sputa contained higher levels of proteins involved in inflammatory responses, such as neutrophil elastase-associated proteins. In an immunoproteomics analysis, 18 out of 55 S. pneumoniae antigens tested showed significantly increased levels of IgGs in inhibiting sputa. Hence, proteomics and immunoproteomics revealed elevated levels of antimicrobial host proteins or S. pneumoniae antigen-specific IgGs in pneumococcal growth-inhibiting sputa, thus explaining their anti-pneumococcal activity.
IMPORTANCE Respiratory pathogens like Streptococcus pneumoniae can cause severe pneumonia. Nonetheless, mechanically ventilated intensive care patients, who have a high risk of contracting pneumonia, rarely develop pneumococcal pneumonia. This suggests the presence of potentially protective antimicrobial agents in their lung environment. Our present study shows for the first time that bronchoalveolar aspirates, "sputa," of ventilated patients in a Dutch intensive care unit were characterized by three distinct groups of proteome abundance signatures that can explain their anti-pneumococcal activity. Importantly, this anti-pneumococcal sputum activity was related either to elevated levels of antimicrobial host proteins or to antibiotics and S. pneumoniae-specific antibodies. Further, the sputum composition of some patients changed over time. Therefore, we conclude that our study may provide a novel tool to measure changes that are indicative of infection-related conditions in the lungs of mechanically ventilated patients.