Concentrations and output of lactoferrin and of low-Mr mucin MG2 were determined in saliva of subjects suffering from Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans-associated periodontal disease and healthy subjects. Periodontal patients were clinically examined and a microbiological sample was taken from the deepest bleeding pockets in each quadrant. The number of viable A. actinomycetemcomitans was determined in the sampled sites of each patient. The MG2 output in the diseased subjects (13.6 microg protein/min) was decreased at least by a factor three compared to periodontal healthy subjects (44.3 microg protein/min). On the other hand, output of lactoferrin was not significantly different in healthy (9.5 microg/min) and diseased subjects (7.6 microg/min). Western analyses demonstrated a higher iron-saturation of lactoferrin in diseased subjects in comparison with the healthy subjects. Lactoferrin degrading enzymes, probably derived from microbial sources, could be detected in saliva of the periodontally diseased subjects, but not in saliva of healthy subjects. The combination of iron-saturation and degradation of lactoferrin suggests that anti-microbial properties of lactoferrin are diminished in periodontitis patients. Moreover, the low concentration of mucin MG2 suggests a decline in mucin defence and consequently a higher susceptibility for oral infection. A negative correlation (r= -0.4, p < 0.05) between the number of subgingival A. actinomycetemcomitans and lactoferrin in saliva suggested that low concentrations of lactoferrin favour the growth of the bacterium. These data indicate that a decline in the salivary defence system might increase the risk for oral infection by A. actinomycetemcomitans.