Salivary mucins protect surfaces from colonization by cariogenic bacteria

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2015 Jan;81(1):332-8. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02573-14. Epub 2014 Oct 24.


Understanding how the body's natural defenses function to protect the oral cavity from the myriad of bacteria that colonize its surfaces is an ongoing topic of research that can lead to breakthroughs in treatment and prevention. One key defense mechanism on all moist epithelial linings, such as the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and lungs, is a layer of thick, well-hydrated mucus. The main gel-forming components of mucus are mucins, large glycoproteins that play a key role in host defense. This study focuses on elucidating the connection between MUC5B salivary mucins and dental caries, one of the most common oral diseases. Dental caries is predominantly caused by Streptococcus mutans attachment and biofilm formation on the tooth surface. Once S. mutans attaches to the tooth, it produces organic acids as metabolic by-products that dissolve tooth enamel, leading to cavity formation. We utilize CFU counts and fluorescence microscopy to quantitatively show that S. mutans attachment and biofilm formation are most robust in the presence of sucrose and that aqueous solutions of purified human MUC5B protect surfaces by acting as an antibiofouling agent in the presence of sucrose. In addition, we find that MUC5B does not alter S. mutans growth and decreases surface attachment and biofilm formation by maintaining S. mutans in the planktonic form. These insights point to the importance of salivary mucins in oral health and lead to a better understanding of how MUC5B could play a role in cavity prevention or diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / metabolism*
  • Bacterial Adhesion / drug effects*
  • Biofilms / drug effects*
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Carboxylic Acids / metabolism
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Humans
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Mucin-5B / metabolism*
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Streptococcus mutans / drug effects*
  • Streptococcus mutans / metabolism
  • Streptococcus mutans / physiology*
  • Sucrose / metabolism


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Carboxylic Acids
  • MUC5B protein, human
  • Mucin-5B
  • Sucrose