Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cavity Causing Bacterium Attacking the Heart

Scientists have discovered the means that bacteria, normally found in our mouths, use to attack heart tissue. This invasion can cause a dangerous, even deadly, heart infection known as endocarditis. In light of this, there now exists the possibility of creating a screening tool, possibly a cheek swab or a saliva test that can gauge a dental patient's vulnerability to the condition.

The identification of the protein that allows Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) to enter the heart tissue is reported in the June issue of Infection and Immunity by microbiologists at the University of Rochester Medical Center. S. mutans is a bacterium best known for causing cavities, residing in dental plaque and thriving in our oral cavities. Then they produce acid that erode our teeth.

Typically, S. mutans only create oral problems and confine themselves to the mouth. Still there are occasions, especially after a dental procedure or even after fervent flossing, the bacteria enter the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, they are usually destroyed by the immune system, but sometimes they travel to the heart and colonize its tissue, especially heart valves. The colonized bacteria can then cause endocarditis, inflaming the heart valves. This condition can be fatal . Infection by S. mutans is a leading cause of that heart condition.

Abranches and her team at the University's Center for Oral Biology discovered that a collagen-binding protein known as CNM gives S. mutans the ability to penetrate the heart tissue. In laboratory experiments they found that strains with CNM are able to attack heart cells, while strains without CNM were not.

These discoveries may eventually allow doctors to prevent S. mutans from invading heart tissue altogether . Even sooner, the knowledge gained may enable doctors to discern a patient’s particular vulnerability to a heart infection caused by the bacteria based on whether CNM is present or not.

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