Taxonomy and virulence of oral spirochetes

Oral Microbiol Immunol. 2000 Feb;15(1):1-9. doi: 10.1034/j.1399-302x.2000.150101.x.


All oral spirochetes are classified in the genus Treponema. This genus is in the family Spirochaetaceae as in Bergey's manual of systematic bacteriology. Other generic members of the family include Spirochaeta, Cristispira and Borrelia. This conventional classification is in accord with phylogenetic analysis of the spirochetes based on 16S rRNA cataloguing. The oral spirochetes fall naturally within the grouping of Treponema. Only four species of Treponema have been cultivated and maintained reliably: Treponema denticola, Treponema pectinovorum, Treponema socranskii and Treponema vincentii. These species have valid names according to the rules of nomenclature except for Treponema vincentii, which only has had effective publication. The virulence factors of the oral spirochetes updated in this mini-review have been discussed within the following broad confines: adherence, cytotoxic effects, iron sequestration and locomotion. T. denticola has been shown to attach to human gingival fibroblasts, basement membrane proteins, as well as other substrates by specific attachment mechanisms. The binding of the spirochete to human gingival fibroblasts resulted in cytotoxicity and cell death due to enzymes and other proteins. Binding of the spirochete to erythrocytes was accompanied by agglutination and lysis. Hemolysis releases hemin, which is sequestered by an outer membrane sheath receptor protein of the spirochete. The ability to locomote through viscous environments enables spirochetes to migrate within gingival crevicular fluid and to penetrate sulcular epithelial linings and gingival connective tissue. The virulence factors of the oral spirochetes proven in vitro underscore the important role they play in the periodontal disease process. This role has been evaluated in vivo by use of a murine model.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Adhesion
  • Bacterial Typing Techniques
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epithelial Cells / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Periodontitis / microbiology*
  • Ribotyping
  • Terminology as Topic*
  • Treponema / classification*
  • Treponema / enzymology
  • Treponema / pathogenicity*
  • Treponema / physiology
  • Virulence