Oral hygiene is not only important for keeping teeth and gums healthy; it can also affect a person's health in general. New work has suggested that bacterial pathogens that reside in tissues around the teeth can contribute to the development of serious oral cancer, and an antimicrobial peptide that is produced by bacteria, called bacteriocin, appears to disrupt the formation of this oral cancer. The work has been reported in PLOS Pathogens.
Cancer that arises in the head and neck tends to start in cells that line most surfaces there, called squamous cells. Smoking, alcohol use, and human papillomavirus infection can contribute to the development of these cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for about 90 percent of all head and neck cancers, and one type called oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) causes 90 percent of all oral malignancies. It also has a poor survival rate.
Scientists have been interested in learning more about why OSCC is so aggressive. Yvonne Kapila of the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues wanted to know whether pathogens in the mouth are involved.
Their work showed that there are three kinds of pathogens in the human mouth, called Porphyromonas gingivalis, Treponema denticola, and Fusobacterium nucleatum can enhance the ability of OSCC cells to move around, invade tissues, and form tumors in a mouse model. Two biochemical pathways, called integrin/FAK and TLR/MyDD88 are involved in these processes.
The work also showed that a common food preservative and antimicrobial compound called nisin was able to inhibit these cellular processes. Nisin is a type of bacteriocin. The authors noted that this is the first evidence that oral cancer formation could be stymied by bacteriocin, and that nisin has therapeutic potential as an anticancer agent.