Periodontitis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the tooth supporting tissue that leads to tooth loss. The disease results from the inflammation triggered by a group of Gram-negative pathogens that colonize the gingival and sub-gingival locations as polymicrobial biofilms. One of the pathogens present in these biofilms and strongly implicated in periodontitis is Tannerella forsythia. Its role in pathogenesis has been confirmed by reproduction of the disease (periodontal bone destruction) in animal models following infection with the bacterium. Uniquely, T. forsythia requires exogenous MurNAc, an essential peptidoglycan aminosugar, for growth. To date, this has not been observed for other pathogens but is likely due to the absence of genes encoding the key enzyme in its genome for the de novo synthesis of MurNAc from simple sugars. Moreover, despite its clear ability to utilize exogenously supplied MurNAc, the Tannerella genome also lacks homologs of PTS-type MurNAc transporters present in other bacteria. These unique characteristics suggest that novel mechanisms for MurNAc uptake and utilization exist in the bacterium. Surprisingly, T. forsythia can grow in in vitro biofilms in the absence of MurNAc if sialic acid-containing sialoglycoproteins are supplemented instead. We predict that in vivo the MurNAc requirements of the bacterium are fulfilled by scavenging muropeptides and MurNAc released by cohabiting bacteria during their cell wall recycling and during biofilm growth by MurNAc synthesis from sialic acid, which is most likely made available in vivo by the action of bacterial sialidase(s) on host glycoproteins. Thus, the objectives of this study are to define the mechanisms by which T. forsythia transports exogenous MurNAc for peptidoglycan synthesis (Aim1), and discover the metabolic pathways by which MurNAc is synthesized from sialic acid in the bacterium (Aim 2). Overall, this study will provide a basic understanding of the unique physiology of T. forsythia in relation to MurNAc uptake/utilization as well as novel insights into the nutritional requirements of the bacterium in the human oral cavity. This knowledge will aid in designing new antimicrobial agents targeting MurNAc uptake/utilization pathways to control T. forsythia growth. Moreover, the information will be valuable for understanding other bacteria which have not yet been cultivated/identified but might have similar physiological requirements.

Public Health Relevance

Tannerella forsythia is an oral bacterium implicated in periodontitis, a chronic inflammatory disease of the tooth supporting tissue resulting in tooth loss. This project aims to identify the novel biochemical pathways by which an essential aminosugar N-acteyl muramic acid is transported and utilized in the bacterium. This knowledge will be useful in designing novel antimicrobial agents against the bacterium and thus in the treatment of periodontitis.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Oral, Dental and Craniofacial Sciences Study Section (ODCS)
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Lunsford, Dwayne
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State University of New York at Buffalo
Schools of Dentistry
United States
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