Gum disease-causing bacteria borrow growth molecules from neighbours to thrive

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gum disease-causing bacteria
Photo: obencem – 123rf

The human body is filled with friendly bacteria. However, some of these microorganisms, such as Veillonella parvula, may be too nice. These peaceful bacteria engage in a one-sided relationship with pathogen Porphyromonas gingivalis, helping the germ multiply and cause gum disease, according to a new research from the US.

The research—published in The ISME Journal—sought to understand how P. gingivalis colonises the mouth. The pathogen is unable to produce its own growth molecules until it achieves a large population in the oral microbiome.

The answer: It borrows growth molecules from V. parvula, a common yet harmless bacteria in the mouth whose growth is not population dependent.

In a healthy mouth, P. gingivalis makes up a miniscule amount of the bacteria in the oral microbiome and cannot replicate. But if dental plaque is allowed to grow unchecked due to poor oral hygiene, V. parvula will multiply and eventually produce enough growth molecules to also spur the reproduction of P. gingivalis.

Understanding the relationship between P. gingivalis and V. parvula will help researchers create targeted therapies for periodontitis, said lead researcher Dr Patricia Diaz from the University at Buffalo.

The study tested the effects of growth molecules exuded by microorganisms in the mouth on P. gingivalis, including molecules from five species of bacteria that are prevalent in gingivitis, a condition that precedes periodontitis.

Of the bacteria examined, only growth molecules secreted by V. parvula enabled the replication of P. gingivalis, regardless of the strain of either microbe. When V. parvula was removed from the microbiome, growth of P. gingivalis halted. However, the mere presence of any V. parvula was not enough to stimulate P. gingivalis, as the pathogen was only incited by a large population of V. parvula.

Data suggest that the relationship is one-directional as V. parvula received no obvious benefit from sharing its growth molecules.

“P. gingivalis and V. parvula interact at many levels, but the beneficiary is P. gingivalis,” Dr Diaz said, noting that V. parvula also produces heme, which is the preferred iron source for P. gingivalis.

“This relationship that allows growth of P. gingivalis was not only confirmed in a preclinical model of periodontitis, but also, in the presence of V. parvula, P. gingivalis could amplify periodontal bone loss, which is the hallmark of the disease,” co-investigator Dr George Hajishengallis added. 

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