Newly discovered chemical-sensing cells in the gums protect the mouth by standing guard against infections that damage soft tissue and destroy the bone that supports the teeth, a US study has found.
In the study—published in Nature Communications—researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Pennsylvania, along with colleagues from Sichuan University, found that the newly identified cells, known as solitary chemosensory cells (SCCs), are present in the gums of mice where they express several types of taste receptors along with a downstream coupling protein called gustducin.
The team showed that knocking molecules like gustducin or genetically removing gum SCCs in the mice leads to overgrowth of pathogenic oral bacteria and periodontitis. Conversely, stimulating bitter taste receptors in SCCs promotes the production of anti-microbial molecules.
Mice without gustducin in their SSCs have a more damaging set of microbes living in their mouths compared to normal mice, implying that the lack of gustducin disconnects the sentinel cells’ molecular signal to other systems.
Importantly, differences in the oral bacterial composition of the gustducin-less mice compared to normal mice occurred before any loss of bone in the gums, implying that differences in the oral microbiome could be used as a harbinger of disease.
“These sensory cells may provide a new approach for personalised treatment of periodontitis by harnessing a person’s own innate immune system to regulate their oral microbiome,” Monell Center director and president Dr Robert Margolskee said.