Antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) are among the repertoire of host innate immune defenses. In the oral cavity, several AMPs are present in saliva and have antimicrobial activities against oral bacteria, including Streptococcus mutans, a primary etiological agent of dental caries. In this study, we hypothesized that unique S. mutans strains, as determined by DNA fingerprinting from sixty 13-year-old subjects with or without experience of caries, would have different susceptibilities to α-defensins-1-3 (HNP-1-3), β-defensins-2-3 (HBD-2-3) and LL-37. The salivary levels of these peptides in subjects were also measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. We found that S. mutans strains from children with active caries showed greater resistance to salivary HNP-1-2, HBD-2-3 and LL-37 at varying concentrations than those from caries-free subjects. In addition, combinations of these peptides increased their antimicrobial activity against S. mutans either additively or synergistically. The salivary levels of these peptides were highly variable among subjects with no correlation to host caries experience. However, the levels of a number of these peptides in saliva appeared to be positively correlated within an individual. Our findings suggest that the relative ability of S. mutans to resist host salivary AMPs may be considered a potential virulence factor for this species such that S. mutans strains that are more resistant to these peptides may have an ecological advantage to preferentially colonize within dental plaque and increase the risk of dental caries.
© 2011 John Wiley & Sons A/S.