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Periodontol 2000. 1999 Jun;20:136-67.

Virulence factors of Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans.

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Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, University of Vermont, Burlington, USA.


A. actinomycetemcomitans has clearly adapted well to its environs; its armamentarium of virulence factors (Table 2) ensures its survival in the oral cavity and enables it to promote disease. Factors that promote A. actinomycetemcomitans colonization and persistence in the oral cavity include adhesins, bacteriocins, invasins and antibiotic resistance. It can interact with and adhere to all components of the oral cavity (the tooth surface, other oral bacteria, epithelial cells or the extracellular matrix). The adherence is mediated by a number of distinct adhesins that are elements of the cell surface (outer membrane proteins, vesicles, fimbriae or amorphous material). A. actinomycetemcomitans enhances its chance of colonization by producing actinobacillin, an antibiotic that is active against both streptococci and Actinomyces, primary colonizers of the tooth surface. The fact that A. actinomycetemcomitans resistance to tetracyclines, a drug often used in the treatment of periodontal disease, is on the rise is an added weapon. Periodontal pathogens or their pathogenic products must be able to pass through the epithelial cell barrier in order to reach and cause destruction to underlying tissues (the gingiva, cementum, periodontal ligament and alveolar bone). A. actinomycetemcomitans is able to elicit its own uptake into epithelial cells and its spread to adjacent cells by usurping normal epithelial cell function. A. actinomycetemcomitans may utilize these remarkable mechanisms for host cell infection and migration to deeper tissues. A. actinomycetemcomitans also orchestrates its own survival by elaborating factors that interfere with the host's defense system (such as factors that kill phagocytes and impair lymphocyte activity, inhibit phagocytosis and phagocyte chemotaxis or interfere with antibody production). Once the organisms are firmly established in the gingiva, the host responds to the bacterial onslaught, especially to the bacterial lipopolysaccharide, by a marked and continual inflammatory response, which results in the destruction of the periodontal tissues. A. actinomycetemcomitans has at least three individual factors that cause bone resorption (lipopolysaccharide, proteolysis-sensitive factor and GroEL), as well as a number of activities (collagenase, fibroblast cytotoxin, etc.) that elicit detrimental effects on connective tissue and the extracellular matrix. It is of considerable interest to know that A. actinomycetemcomitans possesses so many virulence factors but unfortunate that only a few have been extensively studied. If we hope to understand and eradicate this pathogen, it is critical that in-depth investigations into the biochemistry, genetic expression, regulation and mechanisms of action of these factors be initiated.

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