Microbial Interactions in Oral Communities Mediate Emergent Biofilm Properties

J Dent Res. 2020 Jan;99(1):18-25. doi: 10.1177/0022034519880157. Epub 2019 Oct 7.


Oral microbial communities are extraordinarily complex in taxonomic composition and comprise interdependent biological systems. The bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses that thrive within these communities engage in extensive cell-cell interactions, which are both beneficial and antagonistic. Direct physical interactions among individual cells mediate large-scale architectural biofilm arrangements and provide spatial proximity for chemical communication and metabolic cooperation. In this review, we summarize recent work in identifying specific molecular components that mediate cell-cell interactions and describe metabolic interactions, such as cross-feeding and exchange of electron acceptors and small molecules, that modify the growth and virulence of individual species. We argue, however, that although pairwise interaction models have provided useful information, complex community-like systems are needed to study the properties of oral communities. The networks of multiple synergistic and antagonistic interactions within oral biofilms give rise to the emergent properties of persistence, stability, and long-range spatial structure, with these properties mediating the dysbiotic transitions from health to oral diseases. A better understanding of the fundamental properties of interspecies networks will lead to the development of effective strategies to manipulate oral communities.

Keywords: biofilms; candidiasis; imaging; microbial ecology; microscopy; plaque/plaque biofilms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria
  • Biofilms*
  • Microbial Interactions*
  • Microbiota*
  • Virulence