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Infect Immun. 2005 Feb;73(2):687-94.

Oral mucosal endotoxin tolerance induction in chronic periodontitis.

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  • 1Department of Periodontics, School of Dental Medicine, 110 Rockland Hall, Stony Brook University-SUNY, Stony Brook, NY 11794-8703, USA.


The oral mucosa is exposed to a high density and diversity of gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, but very little is known about how immune homeostasis is maintained in this environment, particularly in the inflammatory disease chronic periodontitis (CP). The cells of the innate immune response recognize bacterial structures via the Toll-like receptors (TLR). This activates intracellular signaling and transcription of proteins essential for the induction of an adaptive immune response; however, if unregulated, it can lead to destructive inflammatory responses. Using single-immunoenzyme labeling, we show that the human oral mucosa (gingiva) is infiltrated by large numbers of TLR2(+) and TLR4(+) cells and that their numbers increase significantly in CP, relative to health (P < 0.05, Student's t test). We also show that the numbers of TLR2(+) but not TLR4(+) cells increase linearly with inflammation (r(2) = 0.33, P < 0.05). Double-immunofluorescence analysis confirms that TLR2 is coexpressed by monocytes (MC)/macrophages (mphi) in situ. Further analysis of gingival tissues by quantitative real-time PCR, however, indicates that despite a threefold increase in the expression of interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) mRNA during CP, there is significant (30-fold) downregulation of TLR2 mRNA (P < 0.05, Student's t test). Also showing similar trends are the levels of TLR4 (ninefold reduction), TLR5 (twofold reduction), and MD-2 (sevenfold reduction) mRNA in CP patients compared to healthy persons, while the level of CD14 was unchanged. In vitro studies with human MC indicate that MC respond to an initial stimulus of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) from Porphyromonas gingivalis (PgLPS) or Escherichia coli (EcLPS) by upregulation of TLR2 and TLR4 mRNA and protein; moreover, IL-1beta mRNA is induced and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), IL-10, IL-6, and IL-8 proteins are secreted. However, restimulation of MC with either PgLPS or EcLPS downregulates TLR2 and TLR4 mRNA and protein and IL-1beta mRNA and induces a ca. 10-fold reduction in TNF-alpha secretion, suggesting the induction of endotoxin tolerance by either LPS. Less susceptible to tolerance than TNF-alpha were IL-6, IL-10, and IL-8. These studies suggest that certain components of the innate oral mucosal immune response, most notably TLRs and inflammatory cytokines, may become tolerized during sustained exposure to bacterial structures such as LPS and that this may be one mechanism used in the oral mucosa to attempt to regulate local immune responses.

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