October 20, 2018
Recent research at the UIC College of Dentistry is improving scientists’ understanding of the connections between serious illnesses that affect many parts of our bodies, and periodontal (gum) disease.
The goal is to use these findings to lowering the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes, especially as you age.
Periodontal disease bacteria may kick-start Alzheimer’s
In a recent study, Dr. Keiko Watanabe and colleague Dr. Vladimir Ilievski found that mice that were orally exposed to periodontal disease (gum disease) bacteria developed neuroinflammation, neurodegeneration, and senile plaque formation that were similar to AD in humans. Control animals did not show this pathology. Furthermore, they identified the presence of a periodontal pathogen/product within the neurons in the brains of experimental mice.
The findings, which are published in PLOS ONE, suggest that periodontal (gum) disease may be one of the initiators of Alzheimer’s, which currently has no treatment or cure.
Dr. Watanabe is a Professor of Periodontics and researcher at the UIC College of Dentistry. Her research focuses on the connection between oral and systemic health, a research area that is critical in overall patient care.
Dr. Keiko Watanabe and colleague Dr. Vladimir Ilievski
Another important finding is that the mice used in their experiments were young wild-type animals. Historically, transgenic mice were used to study AD since wild-type young mice are not thought to develop senile plaque. This suggests that chronic oral bacterial infection or the presence of bacteria/product in the brain may influence the development of senile plaque and hence chronic bacterial infection may be a risk factor for the Sporadic form of AD.
Dr. Watanabe’s study is the first ever to show that exposure to periodontal bacteria can initiate the formation of senile plaques that are found in Alzheimer’s patients.
In a recent study, Dr. Watanabe and colleague Dr. Vladimir Ilievski found that mice that were exposed to periodontal disease (gum disease) bacteria experienced neurodegeneration effects that were similar to Alzheimer’s in humans.
Ten mice were repeatedly exposed to the bacteria causing periodontitis over a period of 22 weeks, after which they were compared with a control group of the same size.
The mice exhibited much higher levels of senile plaque than the control group, or protein deposits in the grey matter of the brain that unleash toxic events. The mice also showed greater levels of brain inflammation and neuron degeneration than the control group.
Studying the brain to fight gum disease
Watanabe’s study was the first ever to show that exposure to periodontal bacteria can initiate the formation of senile plaques that are found in Alzheimer’s patients. Prior studies had only associated periodontitis with cognitive impairment.
The results were surprising even to Dr. Watanabe and serve as a breakthrough in our understanding of Alzheimer’s.
“We did not expect that the periodontal pathogen would have this much influence on the brain, or that the effects would so thoroughly resemble Alzheimer’s disease,” Watanabe said.
The use of mice also presents clarity in the findings because animal models don’t have the confounding factors that can affect human studies, such as varying diets, obesity and exercise levels. “These things are all controlled using the animal system…To me, it’s the clearest model system,” she explained.
The effects of periodontitis are far reaching, and we have only touched the surface of our understanding of them. Watanabe has also previously discovered that periodontitis can even affect the brain’s metabolism along with the liver and heart.
“We did a metabolomic analysis, that means the change in metabolism -- the metabolites in the brain -- and we looked at the results. The metabolomic analysis shows there’s a decrease in glucose availability, and the brain needs glucose for energy.”
What this means for those suffering from Alzheimer’s remains to be seen until further research clarifies the connection between the illness and periodontitis in humans.
However, Dr. Watanabe’s research has established a clear animal model correlation between periodontitis and Alzheimer’s that serves as a basis to explore exciting new clinical research areas and therapeutic targets.
The connection between Alzheimer’s and dental health
A growing body of research has identified a connection between oral health and chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other serious conditions affecting millions of people. Recent research at the UIC College of Dentistry is helping to unveil some of the mystery behind the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease to pave the way for new treatments and bridge the “gap” that has traditionally separated the medical and dental professions. The goal is to use these findings to lowering the risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease and diabetes, especially as you age.
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a devastating neurodegenerative disease that affects 1 in 10 adults over the age of 65. It leads to dementia, memory loss, and a steady decline in a person’s ability to function independently. The two major forms of AD are familial (early onset) AD which constitutes less than 5% of AD cases and sporadic (late onset) AD which constitutes over 95% of all AD. Early onset AD results primarily from mutation of genes that are involved in the formation of amyloid or senile plaques. Sporadic AD has a relatively late onset (60-65 years of age) but its etiology and molecular mechanisms are largely unknown.
The link between periodontal disease and your overall health
There are many factors that lead to or increase the risk of periodontal disease. Genetics, unhealthy diet, unhealthy habits such as smoking, and poor oral hygiene all play a part in creating the conditions that may lead to periodontal disease.
Genetics, and other health related factors also play a part in influencing how our bodies respond to the disease and treatment methods. For instance, research studies have identified an association between periodontitis, obesity and type 2 diabetes. And, we know that obesity is a risk factor for several chronic diseases, most notably hypertension, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia and coronary heart disease.
University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry
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