Molecular pathogenicity of the oral opportunistic pathogen Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2003;57:29-55. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.57.030502.090908.


Periodontitis is mankind's most common chronic inflammatory disease. One severe form of periodontitis is localized aggressive periodontitis (LAP), a condition to which individuals of African origin demonstrate an increased susceptibility. The main causative organism of this disease is Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans. A member of the Pasteurellaceae, A. actinomycetemcomitans produces a number of interesting putative virulence factors including (a) an RTX leukotoxin that targets only neutrophils and monocytes and whose action is influenced by a novel type IV secretion system involved in bacterial adhesion; (b) the newly discovered toxin, cytolethal distending toxin (CDT); and (c) a secreted chaperonin 60 with potent leukocyte-activating and bone resorbing activities. This organism also produces a plethora of proteins able to inhibit eukaryotic cell cycle progression and proteins and peptides that can induce distinct forms of proinflammatory cytokine networks. A range of other proteins interacting with the host is currently being uncovered. In addition to these secreted factors, A. actinomycetemcomitans is invasive with an unusual mechanism for entering, and traveling within, eukaryotic cells. This review focuses on recent advances in our understanding of the molecular and cellular pathogenicity of this fascinating oral bacterium.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actinobacillus Infections / microbiology*
  • Actinobacillus Infections / pathology
  • Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans / pathogenicity
  • Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans / physiology*
  • Bacterial Adhesion
  • Bacterial Toxins / metabolism
  • Chaperonin 60 / metabolism
  • Exotoxins / metabolism
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Humans
  • Periodontitis / microbiology*
  • Periodontitis / pathology
  • Virulence


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Chaperonin 60
  • Exotoxins
  • cytolethal distending toxin
  • leukotoxin