Intracellular degradation of Fusobacterium nucleatum in human gingival epithelial cells

Mol Cells. 2010 Dec;30(6):519-26. doi: 10.1007/s10059-010-0142-8. Epub 2010 Nov 5.


The role of Fusobacterium nucleatum in oral health and disease is controversial. We have previously shown that F. nucleatum invades gingival epithelial cells. However, the destiny of the internalized F. nucleatum is not clear. In the present study, the intracellular destiny of F. nucleatum and its cytopathic effect on gingival epithelial cells were studied. The ability of F. nucleatum and seven other oral bacterial species to invade immortalized human gingival epithelial (HOK-16B) cells were compared by confocal microscopy and flow cytometry. F. nucleatum had the highest invasive capacity, comparable to that of Porphyromonas gingivalis, a periodontal pathogen. Confocal microscopic examination revealed colocalization of internalized F. nucleatum with endosomes and lysosomes. Examination by transmission electron microscopy revealed that most intracellular F. nucleatum was located within vesicular structures with single enclosed membranes. Furthermore, F. nucleatum could not survive within gingival epithelial cells and had no cytopathic effects on host cells. Interestingly, endosomal maturation played a role in induction of the antimicrobial peptides human beta defensin (HBD)-2 and -3 by F. nucleatum from gingival epithelial cells. F. nucleatum is destined to enter an endocytic degradation pathway after invasion and has no cytopathic effect on gingival epithelial cells, which may cast new light on the role of F. nucleatum in the pathogenesis of periodontitis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / immunology
  • Anti-Infective Agents / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Electron Microscope Tomography / methods
  • Epithelial Cells / immunology
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / microbiology*
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Flow Cytometry / methods
  • Fusobacterium nucleatum / immunology*
  • Fusobacterium nucleatum / metabolism*
  • Fusobacterium nucleatum / ultrastructure
  • Gingiva / cytology*
  • Gingiva / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods
  • Periodontitis / pathology
  • beta-Defensins / immunology
  • beta-Defensins / metabolism*


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • beta-Defensins