Background: Porphyromonas gingivalis (P. gingivalis) and its gingipain virulence factors have been identified as pathogenic effectors in Alzheimer's disease (AD). In a recent study we demonstrated the presence of gingipains in over 90% of postmortem AD brains, with gingipains localizing to the cytoplasm of neurons. However, infection of neurons by P. gingivalis has not been previously reported.
Objective: To demonstrate intraneuronal P. gingivalis and gingipain expression in vitro after infecting neurons derived from human inducible pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) with P. gingivalis for 24, 48, and 72 h.
Methods: Infection was characterized by transmission electron microscopy, confocal microscopy, and bacterial colony forming unit assays. Gingipain expression was monitored by immunofluorescence and RT-qPCR, and protease activity monitored with activity-based probes. Neurodegenerative endpoints were assessed by immunofluorescence, western blot, and ELISA.
Results: Neurons survived the initial infection and showed time dependent, infection induced cell death. P. gingivalis was found free in the cytoplasm or in lysosomes. Infected neurons displayed an accumulation of autophagic vacuoles and multivesicular bodies. Tau protein was strongly degraded, and phosphorylation increased at T231. Over time, the density of presynaptic boutons was decreased.
Conclusion: P. gingivalis can invade and persist in mature neurons. Infected neurons display signs of AD-like neuropathology including the accumulation of autophagic vacuoles and multivesicular bodies, cytoskeleton disruption, an increase in phospho-tau/tau ratio, and synapse loss. Infection of iPSC-derived mature neurons by P. gingivalis provides a novel model system to study the cellular mechanisms leading to AD and to investigate the potential of new therapeutic approaches.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Porphyromonas gingivalis; gingipain cysteine endopeptidases; in vitro techniques; multivesicular bodies; synapses; tau protein.