Melanocortin Agonism Tames Gum Disease and Saves Bone

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The list of potential tools that dentists could use to fight gum disease keeps getting longer. Research now indicates that melanocortin agonism may effectively control the inflammation that often occurs in gum tissue, potentially opening the door to new treatments for periodontitis.

“Controlling inflammation during gum disease is a key step to avoid alveolar bone resorption, tooth loss, and, thus, improve the quality of life of patients,” said Mila Maderia, PhD, of the Biologic Science Institute at the Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil.

Periodontal disease often is observed with systemic inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. Melanocortin peptides activate specific receptors to exert antiarthritic properties, avoiding excess inflammation and modulating macrophage function.

The researchers infected a group of mice with bacteria related to gum disease and treated them with a melanocortin agonist. A second group of mice had no infection. A third group was infected but not treated. A final group was infected but treated with a placebo.

The researchers found that the melanocortin agonism was associated with reduced alveolar bone resorption and less inflammation, a critical feature to be controlled in gum disease. Melanocortin agonism, then, could be used to tame excessive inflammation and preserve bone.

“Attenuation of the inflammatory axis of periodontal pathology cannot be overstated in its importance,” said Thoru Pederson, PhD, editor in chief of The FASEB Journal. “These findings provide an entirely new approach to this highly prevalent condition.”

The study, “Melanocortin Agonism As a Viable Strategy to Control Alveolar Bone Loss Induced by Oral Infection,” was published by The FASEB Journal.

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