The innate immune system (i.e., complement- and neutrophil-mediated killing) is the first line of defense against microbial infections. In the oral cavity, the innate immune system is highly active and sustains the oral microbiota at the stage of symbiosis. As a keystone pathogen, the oral bacterium Treponema denticola (Td) is highly motile and invasive, establishing itself at the forefront of subgingival plaques where it directly confronts the host immune response. Td is able to breach host immune defenses, survives, and even becomes predominant in the periodontal pocket when dysbiosis and inflammation worsens (e.g., in severe and refractory periodontitis). The underlying mechanisms that allow Td to evade the host immune response remain largely unknown. During the last funding cycle, we have discovered several novel virulence factors in Td. Among these factors, we found that TDE0362 (a cysteine protease) and TDE0471 (a sialidase) have unique biochemical and structural features, protect Td from complement and neutrophils killings, and play pivotal roles in the pathogenicity of Td. We also identified a novel glycan that modifies Td flagellin proteins and found that this unique modification is not only essential for the flagellation and motility of Td but also alters the innate immune response to the flagellins. Building upon these findings, this renewal aims to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying these three novel pathogenic traits of Td. To achieve this goal, the following three specific questions will be addressed. (1) What is the molecular mechanism by which TDE0362 impairs host neutrophil and complement activation? (2) How does TDE0471 utilize host sialic acids to protect Td from complement killing? (3) How does glycosylation alter the innate immune response to Td flagellins? Addressing these questions will not only provide new insights into understanding the pathogenicity of Td at the molecular level, but also advance our current understanding of the uniqueness and complexity of periodontitis. One of the unique aspects about the keystone pathogens is that while they trigger robust and hostile inflammation, they have also evolved complex mechanisms to evade host immune defenses, which allow them to thrive in the oral cavity, change symbiotic microbiota to dysbiosis, and cause tissue damage. In this regard, understanding their uniqueness and underlying mechanisms will lead to new strategies to treat and prevent periodontitis.

Public Health Relevance

Periodontitis is triggered by a group of highly proteolytic anaerobes referred to as ?red-complex? bacteria or ?keystone pathogens?. The oral bacterium Treponema denticola, one of the keystone pathogens, is strongly associated with severe and refractory periodontitis, endodontic infections, and some systemic illness such as cardiovascular disease and oral carcinomas. Understanding the pathogenicity of T. denticola will ultimately lead to new and novel strategies to prevent and treat periodontitis.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Chander, Preethi
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Virginia Commonwealth University
Schools of Dentistry/Oral Hygn
United States
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Kurniyati, Kurni; Liu, Jun; Zhang, Jing-Ren et al. (2018) A pleiotropic role of FlaG in regulating the cell morphogenesis and flagellar homeostasis at the cell poles of Treponema denticola. Cell Microbiol :e12886
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