Gum disease bacterium

Gum Disease-Causing Bacterium Triggers Bone-Destroying Cells

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Oral health experts have known for years that bacteria are responsible for gum disease, but it wasn’t until now that scientists are able to identify the culprit. Identifying the mechanism that is responsible for periodontitis is a major discovery, said lead author University of Michigan postdoctoral fellow Yizu Jiao.

The study from researchers at the University of Michigan also yielded another significant discovery: the bacterium that causes gum disease, called NI1060, also triggers a normally protective protein in the oral cavity, called Nod1, to trigger bone-destroying cells.

Nod1 is a part our body’s protective defences against bacterial infection. It helps us combat infection by recruiting blood cells that act as bacterial killers (neutrophils). Research associate professor Noahiro Inohara said, “In the case of periodontitis, accumulation of NI1060 stimulates Nod1 to trigger neutrophils and osteoclasts, which are cells that destroy bone in the oral cavity."

These findings highlight the connection between the good and bad bacteria that inhabit the oral cavity. It also demonstrates how a harmful bacteria cause disease, and how an at-risk patient might react to such bacteria.

Find out more about the research.