Research to Investigate How Good Oral Bacteria Can Become Fatal

Dentistry Today
Streptococcus gordonii by Lloyd G. Simonson, ASM MicrobeLibrary.


Streptococcus gordonii by Lloyd G. Simonson, ASM MicrobeLibrary.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine have received a $239,000 grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to study Streptococcus gordonii. This bacteria is harmless and even common in healthy mouths. But it can cause infective endocarditis, which is a rare but fatal inflammation of the heart valves, after entering the bloodstream, often through bleeding gums.

“Our white blood cells have a number of ways of destroying invading microbes, but somehow these bacteria manage to escape, sometimes surviving inside the cells meant to kill it. How this occurs is not understood,” said Jason Kay, PhD, assistant professor of oral biology at the school. “Once we understand how this survival occurs, the knowledge will allow us to develop treatments that prevent normally good bacteria from going bad.”

Kay and his team believe that S. gordonii survive inside phagocytes—the white blood cells responsible for eating bacteria, dead cells, and other harmful particles—by resisting the cells’ kill mechanisms. The answer, Kay said, partly lies in the bacteria’s genes. The research will attempt to identify the genes that increase the bacteria’s survival inside the white blood cells by turning off specific genes within the microbes and monitoring the interactions.

Also, the researchers will examine if the phagocytes are modified or damaged during the killing process and how the maturation process of white blood cells affects their ability to destroy the bacteria. Understanding these interactions will help clinicians better prevent one of the causes of infective endocarditis, which is of higher risk to people who have undergone a heart valve replacement.

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