CLOUD: A non-parametric detection test for microbiome outliers

Emmanuel Montassier, Gabriel A. Al-Ghalith, Benjamin Hillmann, Kimberly Viskocil, Amanda J. Kabage, Christopher E. McKinlay, Michael J. Sadowsky, Alexander Khoruts, Dan Knights

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: Dysbiosis of the human gut microbiome is defined as a maladaptive or clinically relevant deviation of the community profile from the healthy or normal state. Dysbiosis has been implicated in an extensive set of metabolic, auto-immune, and infectious diseases, and yet there is substantial inter-individual variation in microbiome composition even within body sites of healthy humans. An individual's microbiome varies over time in a high-dimensional space to form their personal microbiome cloud. This cloud may or may not be similar to that of other people, both in terms of the average microbiome profile (conformity) and the diameter of the cloud (stability). However, there is currently no robust non-parametric test that determines whether a patient's microbiome cloud is an outlier with respect to a reference group of healthy individuals with widely varying microbiome profiles. Methods: Here, we propose a test for outliers' detection in the human gut microbiome that accounts for the wide range of microbiome phenotypes observed in a typical set of healthy individuals and for intra-individual temporal variation. Our robust nonparametric outlier detection test, the CLOUD test, performs two assessments of a patient's microbiome health: conformity, the extent to which the patient's microbiome cloud is ecologically similar to a subset of healthy subjects; and stability, which compares the cloud diameter of a patient to those of healthy subjects. The CLOUD test is based on locally linear embedded ecological distances, allowing it to account for widely varying microbiome compositions among reference individuals. It also leverages temporal variability within patients and reference individuals to increase the robustness of the test. Results: We describe the CLOUD test, and we apply it to one novel and two previously published cohorts of patients receiving fecal microbiota transplantation for recurrent Clostridium difficile colitis, as well as to two known healthy cohorts, demonstrating high concordance of the CLOUD conformity and stability indices with clinical outcomes. Conclusions: Although the CLOUD test is not, on its own, a test for clinical dysbiosis, it nonetheless provides a framework for outlier testing that could be incorporated into evaluation of suspected dysbiosis, which may play a role in diagnosis and prognosis of numerous pediatric and adult diseases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number137
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 6 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Emmanuel Montassier was funded by the Robert Tournut Grant from the French Society of Gastroenterology.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s).


  • Conformity
  • Dysbiosis
  • Fecal microbiota transplantation
  • Microbiome
  • Outlier
  • Stability


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