Researchers Identify Genes That Allow Oral Bacteria to Infect Arteries

University of Florida researchers have identified four genes in an oral pathogen implicated in periodontal disease that allow the bacterium to invade and infect human arterial cells, according to research presented at the American Society for Microbiology's annual meeting.

Based on previous research indicating that the Porphyromonas gingivalis bacterium, which is closely associated with periodontal disease, could invade and survive inside human arterial cells, the Florida team identified and studied four specific P. gingivalis genes to determine their role in the interaction with artery cells.

"Aside from lifestyle and genetic factors, there is increasing evidence that bacterial infections may play a role in heart disease," said study author Paulo Rodrigues, a postdoctoral associate in the UF College of Dentistry's Department of Oral Biology. "P. gingivalis, an important bacterium that causes gum disease, is also linked to cardiovascular disease."

The Florida team created four altered strains of P. gingivalis, each with a different gene mutated to disable it. By comparing the ability of the altered bacteria to invade and survive in the artery cells to that of an unaltered strain of P. gingivalis, they were able to identify and study the specific role played by each gene.

"Our study showed that all four mutated strains were defective in invasion of the artery cells and that their ability to survive inside of the cells was diminished," Dr. Rodrigues said. "These results show that these four genes play a role in the invasion and survival of P. gingivalis inside artery cells."

"The knowledge of how this pathogenic bacterium interacts with artery cells is important and may lead to the development of therapeutics and diagnostic tools for the detection and possibly prevention of heart diseases caused by this association," he added.

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