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J Clin Microbiol. 2006 Apr;44(4):1274-82.

Identification and quantification of archaea involved in primary endodontic infections.

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  • 1Division of Oral Microbiology and Immunology, University Hospital (RWTH), Pauwelsstrasse 30, D-52057 Aachen, Germany.


Members of the domain Archaea, one of the three domains of life, are a highly diverse group of prokaryotes, distinct from bacteria and eukaryotes. Despite their abundance and ubiquity on earth, including their close association with humans, animals, and plants, so far no pathogenic archaea have been described. As some archaea live in close proximity to anaerobic bacteria, for instance, in the human gut system and in periodontal pockets, the aim of our study was to assess whether archaea might possibly be involved in human endodontic infections, which are commonly polymicrobial. We analyzed 20 necrotic uniradicular teeth with radiographic evidence of apical periodontitis and with no previous endodontic treatment. Using real-time quantitative PCR based on the functional gene mcrA (encoding the methyl coenzyme M reductase, specific to methanogenic archaea) and on archaeal 16S rRNA genes, we found five cases to be positive. Direct sequencing of PCR products from both genes showed that the archaeal community was dominated by a Methanobrevibacter oralis-like phylotype. The size of the archaeal population at the diseased sites ranged from 1.3 x 10(5) to 6.8 x 10(5) 16S rRNA gene target molecule numbers and accounted for up to 2.5% of the total prokaryotic community (i.e., bacteria plus archaea). Our findings show that archaea can be intimately connected with infectious diseases and thus support the hypothesis that members of the domain Archaea may have a role as human pathogens.

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