Background: Porphyromonas gingivalis is associated with periodontal disease and invades different cell types including epithelial, endothelial and smooth muscle cells. In addition to P. gingivalis DNA, we have previously identified live invasive bacteria in atheromatous tissue. However, the mechanism of persistence of this organism in vascular tissues remains unclear. Therefore, the objective of this study was to analyze the ability of intracellular P. gingivalis to persist for extended periods of time, transmit to and possibly replicate in different cell types.
Results: Using antibiotic protection assays, immunofluorescent and laser confocal microscopy, we found that after a prolonged intracellular phase, while P. gingivalis can still be detected by immunostaining, the intracellular organisms lose their ability to be recovered in vitro. Surprisingly however, intracellular P. gingivalis could be recovered in vitro upon co incubation with fresh vascular host cells. We then demonstrated that the organism was able to exit the initially infected host cells, then enter and multiply in new host cells. Further, we found that cell-to-cell contact increased the transmission rate but was not required for transmission. Finally, we found that the invasion of new host cells allowed P. gingivalis to increase its numbers.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that the persistence of vascular tissue-embedded P. gingivalis is due to its ability to transmit among different cell types. This is the first communication demonstrating the intercellular transmission as a likely mechanism converting latent intracellular bacteria from state of dormancy to a viable state allowing for persistence of an inflammatory pathogen in vascular tissue.