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J Periodontal Res. 1997 Apr;32(3):326-34.

Bacterial metabolites sodium butyrate and propionate inhibit epithelial cell growth in vitro.

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Department of Periodontology, University of Turku, Finland.


The structural and functional barrier preventing the free advancement of microbial plaque subgingivally along the tooth surface is formed by the junctional epithelial (JE) cells directly attached to the tooth (DAT cells). The mechanism leading to degeneration of the DAT cells is not known. In the present study we examined the possible role of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) on epithelial cells by making use of 2 epithelial cell cultures (HaCaT and ERM) and an explant culture model of human JE. The SCFAs butyrate and propionate were used in concentrations found in human plaque and gingival crevicular fluid (0.25-16.0 mM). The SCFAs had no effect on primary cell adhesion nor on the epithelial attachment apparatus (EAA). By contrast, even 0.25 mM of butyrate significantly retarded epithelial cell growth. Similar effects with propionate were first observed at concentrations higher than 1.0 mM. The retardation of epithelial cell growth was found to be due to inhibition of cell division. Furthermore, after butyrate treatment dense accumulations of intermediate filaments and cytoplasmic vacuolization were characteristically seen in cells adjacent to cells of normal appearance. This suggests that some cells of the growing epithelial cell population are more sensitive to the SCFAs than others, and agrees with previous reports on the DAT cells of periodontally-involved teeth in vivo. The results suggest that SCFAs are microbial factors that play a role in the initiation and progression of periodontal pocket formation by impairing epithelial cell function rather than having a direct effect on the EAA.

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