A researcher has tried to understand how to build roadblocks for a common bacterium that is harmless in a mother's mouth, but can turn deadly when it reaches an unborn child.
An American researcher has received a five-year grant of 1.85 million dollars from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of the National Institutes of Health, to fund her effort.
Yiping Han, associate professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, will be focusing on the bacterium Fusobacterium nucleatum, which creates havoc once it leaves the mouth and enters the blood stream.
She has identified an adhesin protein molecule in the genes of F. nucleatum, called FadA, which allows the bacteria to connect with receptors on epithelial cells in the mouth, and later the endothelial cells of the placenta.
Writing in the journal Infection and Immunity about what they have found to date, Han and her colleagues say that their experiments have shown that bacteria without FadA have less binding capability as compared to those with the adhesin.
"With this new grant, we will be able to continue a functional analysis of FadA," said Han.
She has revealed that her research group will look not only at the binding agent, but also on the receptors on the host epithelial and endothelial cells, which promote the binding of the oral bacteria.
"In some way, the receptors on the host cell activate a signal that puts into action a cascade of processes that allow the bacteria to penetrate the epithelial and endothelial linings and then colonize," she says.
"We want to block the bacteria before it can do any damage. It's an upstream approach to go back to where the whole process begins and stop it from starting its destruction," she adds.
Once it leaves the mouth, the invasion of the bacteria through the placenta allows the bacteria to multiple rapidly in the immune-free environment that protects the fetus from being rejected by the mother's body.
The rapid bacterial growth causes the placenta to become inflamed, and that, in turn, can trigger pre-term birth and fetal death.
According to Han, the research into the mechanisms of bacterial transport not only has potential to prevent pre-term and stillborn births, but it may also have implications in preventing periodontal disease, which has been linked to such health problem as arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.