Inflammation and bone loss in periodontal disease

J Periodontol. 2008 Aug;79(8 Suppl):1569-76. doi: 10.1902/jop.2008.080233.


Inflammation and bone loss are hallmarks of periodontal disease (PD). The question is how the former leads to the latter. Accumulated evidence demonstrates that PD involves bacterially derived factors and antigens that stimulate a local inflammatory reaction and activation of the innate immune system. Proinflammatory molecules and cytokine networks play essential roles in this process. Interleukin-1 and tumor necrosis factor-alpha seem to be primary molecules that, in turn, influence cells in the lesion. Antigen-stimulated lymphocytes (B and T cells) also seem to be important. Eventually, a cascade of events leads to osteoclastogenesis and subsequent bone loss via the receptor activator of nuclear factor-kappa B (RANK)-RANK ligand (RANKL)-osteoprotegerin (OPG) axis. This axis and its regulation are not unique to PD but rather are critical for pathologic lesions involving chronic inflammation. Multiple lines of evidence in models of PD clearly indicate that increases in RANKL mRNA expression and protein production increase the RANKL/OPG ratio and stimulate the differentiation of macrophage precursor cells into osteoclasts. They also stimulate the maturation and survival of the osteoclast, leading to bone loss. OPG mRNA expression and protein production do not generally seem to be increased in the periodontitis lesion. Studies of RANKL and OPG transgenic and knockout animals provide further support for the involvement of these molecules in the tissue loss observed in PD. Ironically, periodontal practitioners have focused on the bacterial etiology of PD and believed that plaque removal was aimed at eliminating specific bacteria or bacterial complexes. However, it seems that the reduction of inflammation and attenuation of the host's immune reaction to the microbial plaque, eventually leading to a decrease in the ratio of RANKL/OPG and a decrease in associated bone loss, are the actual and desired outcomes of periodontal therapy. Future therapeutic options are likely to have regulation of the RANK-RANKL-OPG axis as their goal.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alveolar Bone Loss / immunology*
  • Antigens / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation Mediators / immunology
  • Osteoclasts / immunology
  • Osteoprotegerin / immunology
  • Periodontal Diseases / immunology*
  • Periodontitis / immunology*
  • RANK Ligand / immunology
  • Receptor Activator of Nuclear Factor-kappa B / immunology


  • Antigens
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Osteoprotegerin
  • RANK Ligand
  • Receptor Activator of Nuclear Factor-kappa B