Understanding Oral Bacteria to Help Fight Periodontal Disease

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Using extremely bright light from the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan, Wilfrid Laurier University researchers have advanced our understanding of how a specific group of bacteria in the human mouth contributes to periodontal disease.

Dr. Michael Suits and colleagues focused on a group of three different bacteria, commonly known as the “red complex,” as key contributors to infection and inflammation of the gums and the bones that surround and support the teeth. Using CLS’s CMCF beamline, the team was able to examine the atomic details of a group of proteins from one of the bacteria that make up the red complex.

They found that the proteins encoded in the cluster contribute to the breakdown of long-chain carbohydrates, one of the complex molecules that are part of the ligaments that hold teeth in place.

This discovery could eventually lead to the development of new therapies that specifically target the harmful bacteria in oral biofilms, which is plaque that forms on teeth. Biofilms are a mixture of carbohydrates, extracellular DNA, lipids, and proteins.

Suits says that the space between the teeth and the soft tissue is like a warehouse, and the bacteria are like the workers inside. Warehouse space gives bacteria room and access to disassemble building components, or periodontal ligaments.

Credit: Canadian Light Source

Suits’ team produced a crystallized form of the target proteins. By examining them using crystallography and X-ray diffraction analysis, Suits was able to learn more about how the red complex holds onto and attacks tissues in the oral cavity.

“(CLS) gave us a unique insight,” says Suits. “The level of detail that we get from the synchrotron is unparalleled… It’s kind of a glimpse not under a microscope, but under a super microscope, to really see what these proteins look like.”

There are still many questions about the red complex bacteria and how the member bacteria interact with each other and with the environment, he added.

“There are a lot of unknowns in this system,” Suits said. “Understanding how these things come together is important, and it’s important to fill in the blanks with what we don’t understand about what’s going on in the oral cavity.”

The research is published in PLUS ONE.

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More information:
Peter Nguyen et al, Degradation of chondroitin sulfate A by a PUL-like operon in Tannerella forsythia, PLUS ONE (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0272904

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