Immune dysregulation mediated by the oral microbiome: potential link to chronic inflammation and atherosclerosis

J Intern Med. 2016 Jul;280(1):114-28. doi: 10.1111/joim.12476. Epub 2016 Jan 21.


Cardiovascular disease is an inflammatory disorder characterized by the progressive formation of plaque in coronary arteries, termed atherosclerosis. It is a multifactorial disease that is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Although a number of risk factors have been associated with disease progression, the underlying inflammatory mechanisms contributing to atherosclerosis remain to be fully delineated. Within the last decade, the potential role for infection in inflammatory plaque progression has received considerable interest. Microbial pathogens associated with periodontal disease have been of particular interest due to the high levels of bacteremia that are observed after routine dental procedures and every day oral activities, such as tooth brushing. Here, we explore the potential mechanisms that may explain how periodontal pathogens either directly or indirectly elicit immune dysregulation and consequently progressive inflammation manifested as atherosclerosis. Periodontal pathogens have been shown to contribute directly to atherosclerosis by disrupting endothelial cell function, one of the earliest indicators of cardiovascular disease. Oral infection is thought to indirectly induce elevated production of inflammatory mediators in the systemic circulation. Recently, a number of studies have been conducted focusing on how disruption of the gut microbiome influences the systemic production of proinflammatory cytokines and consequently exacerbation of inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis. It is clear that the immune mechanisms leading to atherosclerotic plaque progression, by oral infection, are complex. Understanding the immune pathways leading to disease progression is essential for the future development of anti-inflammatory therapies for this chronic disease.

Keywords: atherosclerosis; cardiovascular risk factors; immunity; infectious disease; inflammation; periodontal disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atherosclerosis / drug therapy
  • Atherosclerosis / immunology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / immunology*
  • Microbiota / immunology*
  • Periodontal Diseases / immunology*
  • Periodontium / immunology*
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / microbiology
  • Risk Factors