The importance of Streptococcus mutans in the etiology and pathogenesis of dental caries is certainly controversial, in part because excessive attention is paid to the numbers of S. mutans and acid production while the matrix within dental plaque has been neglected. S. mutans does not always dominate within plaque; many organisms are equally acidogenic and aciduric. It is also recognized that glucosyltransferases from S. mutans (Gtfs) play critical roles in the development of virulent dental plaque. Gtfs adsorb to enamel synthesizing glucans in situ, providing sites for avid colonization by microorganisms and an insoluble matrix for plaque. Gtfs also adsorb to surfaces of other oral microorganisms converting them to glucan producers. S. mutans expresses 3 genetically distinct Gtfs; each appears to play a different but overlapping role in the formation of virulent plaque. GtfC is adsorbed to enamel within pellicle whereas GtfB binds avidly to bacteria promoting tight cell clustering, and enhancing cohesion of plaque. GtfD forms a soluble, readily metabolizable polysaccharide and acts as a primer for GtfB. The behavior of soluble Gtfs does not mirror that observed with surface-adsorbed enzymes. Furthermore, the structure of polysaccharide matrix changes over time as a result of the action of mutanases and dextranases within plaque. Gtfs at distinct loci offer chemotherapeutic targets to prevent caries. Nevertheless, agents that inhibit Gtfs in solution frequently have a reduced or no effect on adsorbed enzymes. Clearly, conformational changes and reactions of Gtfs on surfaces are complex and modulate the pathogenesis of dental caries in situ, deserving further investigation.
2011 S. Karger AG, Basel.