Possible role of Porphyromonas gingivalis in orodigestive cancers

J Oral Microbiol. 2019 Jan 9;11(1):1563410. doi: 10.1080/20002297.2018.1563410. eCollection 2019.


There is increasing evidence for an association between periodontitis/tooth loss and oral, gastrointestinal, and pancreatic cancers. Periodontal disease, which is characterized by chronic inflammation and microbial dysbiosis, is a significant risk factor for orodigestive carcinogenesis. Porphyromonas gingivalis is proposed as a keystone pathogen in chronic periodontitis causing both dysbiosis and discordant immune response. The present review focuses on the growing recognition of a relationship between P. gingivalis and orodigestive cancers. Porphyromonas gingivalis has been recovered in abundance from oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC). Recently established tumorigenesis models have indicated a direct relationship between P. gingivalis and carcinogenesis. The bacterium upregulates specific receptors on OSCC cells and keratinocytes, induces epithelial-to-mesenchymal (EMT) transition of normal oral epithelial cells and activates metalloproteinase-9 and interleukin-8 in cultures of the carcinoma cells. In addition, P. gingivalis accelerates cell cycling and suppresses apoptosis in cultures of primary oral epithelial cells. In oral cancer cells, the cell cycle is arrested and there is no effect on apoptosis, but macro autophagy is increased. Porphyromonas gingivalis promotes distant metastasis and chemoresistance to anti-cancer agents and accelerates proliferation of oral tumor cells by affecting gene expression of defensins, by peptidyl-arginine deiminase and noncanonical activation of β-catenin. The pathogen also converts ethanol to the carcinogenic intermediate acetaldehyde. In addition, P. gingivalis can be implicated in precancerous gastric and colon lesions, esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, head and neck (larynx, throat, lip, mouth and salivary glands) carcinoma, and pancreatic cancer. The fact that distant organs can be involved clearly emphasizes that P. gingivalis has systemic tumorigenic effects in addition to the local effects in its native territory, the oral cavity. Although coinfection with other bacteria, viruses, and fungi occurs in periodontitis, P. gingivalis relates to cancer even in absence of periodontitis. Thus, there may be a direct relationship between P. gingivalis and orodigestive cancers.

Keywords: Porphyromonas gingivalis; colon; direct relationship; esophagus; experimental models; oral cavity; orodigestive cancers; pancreas; precancerous lesions.

Publication types

  • Review