Identification of spirochetes related to Treponema pallidum in necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis and chronic periodontitis.N Engl J Med. 1991 Aug 22; 325(8):539-43.NEJM
Spirochetes are commonly associated with periodontal disease, but it is not known whether these treponemes are pathogenic or merely opportunistic. We sought to determine whether spirochetes present in periodontal disease share antigens thought to be unique to spirochetes that are known pathogens.
We examined dental plaque from 24 healthy subjects, from ulcerative sites in 17 patients with ulcerative gingivitis, and from areas of involvement in 19 patients with chronic periodontitis, using an immunocyto-chemical technique with monoclonal antibodies against pathogen-specific determinants on 47-kd and 37-kd molecules from Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. Serum was tested against T. pallidum by immunoblotting and by serologic assays for syphilis.
Spirochetes with a pathogen-specific epitope on a 47-kd molecule were not found in plaque samples from any of the 24 healthy subjects, but they were identified in plaque samples from 11 of 17 patients with ulcerative gingivitis (P less than 0.001) and from 10 of 19 patients with periodontitis (P less than 0.01). Monoclonal antibodies directed against a 37-kd molecule reacted with spirochetes in plaque samples from 1 of 14 controls, from all 11 patients with gingivitis from whom samples could be obtained (P less than 0.001), and from 14 of 19 patients with periodontitis (P less than 0.001). Five of 18 normal subjects had IgG against 47-kd and 37-kd molecules, but none had IgG against 14-kd or 12-kd molecules from T. pallidum subspecies pallidum. Among 19 patients with ulcerative gingivitis, IgG was identified against 47-kd molecules in 15, against 37-kd molecules in 12, against 14-kd molecules in 4, and against 12-kd molecules in 15.
The spirochetes found in dental plaque from patients with ulcerative gingivitis or chronic periodontitis have antigens that are thought to be unique to pathogenic treponemes. This close antigenic relation suggests that T. pallidum or a closely related organism may be involved in the pathogenesis of periodontal disease.