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The Highly Leukotoxic JP2 Clone of Aggregatibacter Actinomycetemcomitans: Evolutionary Aspects, Epidemiology and Etiological Role in Aggressive Periodontitis


The Highly Leukotoxic JP2 Clone of Aggregatibacter Actinomycetemcomitans: Evolutionary Aspects, Epidemiology and Etiological Role in Aggressive Periodontitis

Dorte Haubek. APMIS Suppl.


For many years, attention has been given to the oral bacterium Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, as a species possibly implicated in the etiology of aggressive periodontitis in adolescents. One of the major virulence factors of A. actinomycetemcomitans is the leukotoxin which is able to kill important cells of the immune system. As demonstrated in population genetic analyses, the population structure of A. actinomycetemcomitans is mainly clonal with evolutionary lineages corresponding to the serotypes. A particular highly leukotoxic clone (JP2) of serotype b has been discovered. The JP2 clone, with an estimated origin some 2400 years ago, is found to be highly conserved, based on analyses of a collection of JP2 clone strains collected through more than 20 years from individuals of diverse origin and living geographically widespread. Despite demonstration of minor evolutionary changes within the genome of JP2 clone strains of A. actinomycetemcomitans, the JP2 clone strains constitute a unique clonal type, the characteristics of which include a 530 basepair deletion in the leukotoxin operon implicated in the enhanced leukotoxic activity of the clone. Mapping of the geographic occurrence of the JP2 clone of A. actinomycetemcomitans has revealed that its colonization is largely restricted to individuals of African descent. Characteristic mutations, which allow JP2 clone isolates from the Mediterranean region to be distinguished from isolates from West Africa, including the Cape Verde islands, suggest that the JP2 clone initially emerged as a distinct genotype in the Mediterranean region of Africa and subsequently spread to West Africa, from where it might have been transferred to the American continent during the transatlantic slave trade. The finding of a sustained selective colonization of individuals of African descent, despite geographical separation from the African continent for centuries, suggests that the JP2 clone might have a distinct host tropism. Further studies are needed to elucidate the reasons for the apparent selective colonization of the Mediterranean and Western African populations. The JP2 clone of A. actinomycetemcomitans appears to play a prominent role in the etiology of aggressive periodontitis compared to other clonal types of the species. While A. actinomycetemcomitans, in general, is considered an opportunistic pathogen of the resident oral microbiota, the JP2 clone has features similar to those of an exogenous pathogen. Clonal types other than JP2 can be isolated from healthy as well as periodontally diseased individuals, whereas the JP2 clone has been isolated primarily from periodontally diseased individuals. As demonstrated in a prospective cohort study in Morocco, where the JP2 clone is endemically present, the presence of this clone in dental plaque confers a remarkably increased risk for development of aggressive periodontitis, suggesting that the JP2 clone is an important etiological agent of aggressive periodontitis in adolescents. Support for association of clonal types other than JP2 of A. actinomycetemcomitans with aggressive periodontitis has also been provided, but the association is much weaker. Nearly half of the JP2 clone carriers were found to be persistently infected during a two-year follow-up period, which indicates a level of stability of colonization with the JP2 clone similar to that previously reported for non-JP2 clonal types of A. actinomycetemcomitans. The relative risk of aggressive periodontitis is highest for individuals with stable JP2 clone colonization. Although the method used is not quantitative, this finding adds to the evidence for a causal role of the JP2 clone in aggressive periodontitis. Longitudinal data shows that few individuals are colonized with the JP2 clone de novo after puberty. Patterns of parent-child carriage and shared colonization of JP2 clone strains among siblings have been demonstrated in other studies, altogether indicating that transmission of the JP2 clone, like other clonal types of A. actinomycetemcomitans, occurs vertically, and through close person to person contacts. In conclusion, a conserved and highly leukotoxic clone of A. actinomycetemcomitans with unique characteristics and with an apparent linkage to individuals of African descent has been identified. Being aware that the genetic constitution of the hosts has not been considered and that focus in our studies has been on A. actinomycetemcomitans only, and not on other members of the oral microbiota, we conclude that the JP2 clone of A. actinomycetemcomitans is a likely etiological agent of aggressive periodontitis in adolescents.

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