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Infect Immun. 1996 Jul;64(7):2371-80.

Bacterially induced bone destruction: mechanisms and misconceptions.

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  • 1Maxillofacial Surgery Research Unit, Eastman Dental Insitute, University College London, United Kingdom.


Normal bone remodelling requires the coordinated regulation of the genesis and activity of osteoblast and osteoclast lineages. Any interference with these integrated cellular systems can result in dysregulation of remodelling with the consequent loss of bone matrix. Bacteria are important causes of bone pathology in common conditions such as periodontitis, dental cysts, bacterial arthritis, and osteomyelitis. It is now established that many of the bacteria implicated in bone diseases contain or produce molecules with potent effects on bone cells. Some of these molecules, such as components of the gram-positive cell walls (lipoteichoic acids), are weak stimulators of bone resorption in vitro, while others (PMT, cpn60) are as active as the most active mammalian osteolytic factors such as cytokines like IL-1 and TNF. The complexity of the integration of bone cell lineage development means that there are still question marks over the mechanism of action of many well-known bone-modulatory molecules such as parathyroid hormone. The key questions which must be asked of the now-recognized bacterial bone-modulatory molecules are as follows: (i) what cell population do they bind to, (ii) what is the nature of the receptor and postreceptor events, and (iii) is their action direct or dependent on the induction of secondary extracellular bone-modulating factors such as cytokines, eicosanoids, etc. In the case of LPS, this ubiquitous gram-negative polymer probably binds to osteoblasts or other cells in bone through the CD14 receptor and stimulates them to release cytokines and eicosanoids which then induce the recruitment and activation of osteoclasts. This explains the inhibitor effects of nonsteroidal and anticytokine agents on LPS-induced bone resorption. However, other bacterial factors such as the potent toxin PMT may act by blocking the normal maturation pathway of the osteoblast lineage, thus inducing dysregulation in the tightly regulated process of resorption and replacement of bone matrix. At the present time, it is not possible to define a general mechanism by which bacteria promote loss of bone matrix. Many bacteria are capable of stimulating bone matrix loss, and the information available would suggest that each organism possesses different factors which interact with bone in different ways. With the rapid increase in antibiotic resistance, particularly with Staphylococcus aureus and M. tuberculosis, organisms responsible for much bone pathology in developed countries only two generations ago, we would urge that much greater attention should be focused on the problem of bacterially induced bone remodelling in order to define pathogenetic mechanisms which could be therapeutic targets for the development of new treatment modalities.

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