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Mouth-to-Heart Infections

July 18, 2014

Bacteria that cause gum disease can migrate to the cardiovascular system and hide there.



Mouth to heart infections. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

People with gum disease face a higher risk of heart disease. Now, researchers have learned how this may happen. Infectious Diseases professor Caroline Genco of Boston University’s School of Medicine co-led the study. They studied the effects of oral bacteria on the mouths and arteries of mice.

CAROLINE GENCO (Boston University School of Medicine):

We determined that these bacteria have ways to hide from the immune system, and persist for long periods of time.

The key was a single molecule on the bacteria’s outer coat, which hid it enough to cause chronic, low-grade cardiovascular inflammation. Genco’s team found that the molecule was necessary to cause heart disease but not gum disease. She says the bacteria could make this molecular change quickly after entering the bloodstream – which could explain why patients’ heart disease risk persists even after their gum disease is treated. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.