Porphyromonas gingivalis, the major etiologic agent of chronic periodontitis, produces a broad spectrum of virulence factors, including outer membrane vesicles. In this study, we investigated the capacity of P. gingivalis vesicles to promote the shedding or cleavage of the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) receptor CD14 from the surface of human U937 macrophage-like cells. SDS-PAGE/Western immunoblotting analysis of gingival crevicular fluid samples from patients affected by moderate or advanced periodontitis revealed the presence of soluble CD14 and CD14 fragments, thus supporting the hypothesis of an in vivo shedding and cleavage of CD14 receptors. Flow cytometry analysis of macrophage-like cells treated with a vesicle-containing culture supernatant of P. gingivalis showed a significant decrease in the binding of anti-human CD14 to the cell surface. However, no accumulation of soluble CD14 or immunoreactive CD14 fragments in the assay supernatant could be demonstrated by ELISA. Treatment of macrophage-like cells with various concentrations of P. gingivalis vesicles substantially suppressed TNF-alpha production triggered by Escherichia coli LPS. This suppressive effect was much less important using heat-treated vesicles or in the presence of leupeptin, a gingipain inhibitor, during the treatment. Recombinant human CD14 receptors were found to be susceptible to proteolytic degradation by P. gingivalis vesicles. A purified Arg-gingipain preparation produced much more degradation than a Lys-gingipain preparation. This study provides evidence that P. gingivalis outer membrane vesicles contribute to the loss of membrane-bound CD14 receptors and that gingipains degrade this LPS receptor. Such a phenomenon, which results in an hyporesponsiveness of macrophages to LPS stimulation, may contribute to an increased capacity of P. gingivalis, and other periodontopathogens, to evade the host immune system mechanisms.