Washington: A new study has discovered the protein that allows cavity-causing microbes present in the mouth to invade the heart tissue, causing the sometimes-lethal infection endocarditis.
Streptococcus mutans is a bacterium best known for causing cavities. It resides in the dental plaque, an architecturally sophisticated goo composed of an elaborate molecular matrix created by itself.
Though the bacterium confines itself to the mouth, it may enter the bloodstream after a dental procedure or even after a vigorous bout of flossing.
Normally, the immune system destroys them, but sometimes, within just a few seconds they travel to the heart and colonize its tissue, especially heart valves.
There the bacteria can cause the deadly endocarditis, which refers to the inflammation of heart valves.
The findings have raised the possibility of creating a screening tool, like a swab of the cheek or a spit test to gauge a dental patient’s vulnerability to the condition.
“When I first learned that S. mutans sometimes can live in the heart, I asked myself: Why in the world are these bacteria, which normally live in the mouth, in the heart? I was intrigued. And I began investigating how they get there and survive there,” said Jacqueline Abranches, research assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Researchers have found that a collagen-binding protein known as CNM gives S. mutans its ability to invade heart tissue.
Without the CNM, the bacteria simply couldn’t gain a foothold. Their ability to adhere was about one-tenth of what it was with CNM.
Abranches explained that the best way to prevent the bacterium from attacking the heart valves is to maintain good oral health.
The study appears in the June issue of Infection and Immunity.