Immunodominant Antigens in Periodontal Disease: A Real or Illusive Concept?

Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 2001;12(2):179-85. doi: 10.1177/10454411010120020701.


The humoral arm of the immune system provides protection from many medically significant pathogens. The antigenic epitopes of the pathogens which induce these responses, and the subsequent characteristics of the host response, have been extensively documented in the medical literature, and in many cases have resulted in the development and implementation of effective vaccines or diagnostic tests. There is a substantial body of literature on the humoral immune response in periodontal disease, which is targeted at micro-organisms present within periodontal pockets. However, the significance and specificity of the immune response in periodontal disease have proved difficult to elucidate, due to the large number of potential pathogens in the plaque biofilm and the apparent commensal nature of many of these opportunistic pathogens. This review addresses our current knowledge of the approaches and strategies which have been used to elucidate and examine the concept of immunodominant antigens in medical infections and, more recently, periodontal disease. An identification/understanding of the immunodominant antigens would be informative with respect to: (i) the relative importance of the implicated pathogens, (ii) new approaches to immunological diagnosis, (iii) specific bacterial virulence determinants, (iv) natural protective responses, and (v) the selection of potential vaccine candidate antigens. We conclude that immunodominance of antigens in periodontal disease may be relevant to our understanding of periodontal disease pathogenesis, but due to the complexity and diversity of the 'pathogenic microbial ecology', it is currently an enigmatic topic requiring a multidisciplinary approach linking clinical, microbiological, and immunological investigations. We also conclude, after assessing the literature available on the topic of immunodominance, that it is a term that, if used, must be clearly defined and understood, since it is often used loosely, leading to a general misinterpretation by readers of oral and medical literature.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans / immunology
  • Animals
  • Antigens, Bacterial / immunology*
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins / immunology
  • Exotoxins / immunology
  • Fimbriae, Bacterial / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunodominant Epitopes*
  • Lipopolysaccharides / immunology
  • Periodontitis / immunology*
  • Periodontitis / microbiology*
  • Porphyromonas gingivalis / immunology
  • Virulence


  • Antigens, Bacterial
  • Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins
  • Exotoxins
  • Immunodominant Epitopes
  • Lipopolysaccharides
  • leukotoxin