Newly discovered chemical-sensing cells in the gums protect the mouth by standing guard against infections that damage soft tissue and destroy the bone that supports the teeth, according to a report from researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center and colleagues from China. Their results are described in an open-access article published online on October 3, 2019 in Nature Communications (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-12505-x). The article is titled “Gingival Solitary Chemosensory Cells Are Immune Sentinels for Periodontitis.” With the help of bitter taste receptors that also detect byproducts from harmful bacteria, these special gum cells trigger the immune system to control the amount and type of bacteria in the mouth and could one day lead to personalized dental treatments against gum disease. Periodontitis is a serious gum disorder induced by an imbalance in the bacteria and other microorganisms of the mouth (the oral microbiome). It is the sixth-most-prevalent infectious disease and the most common cause of tooth loss worldwide. Monell Center Director and President Robert Margolskee, MD, PhD and Monell Center cell biologist Marco Tizzano, PhD, along with colleagues from Sichuan University in China, found that the newly identified cells, known as solitary chemosensory cells (SCCs), are present in the gums of mice. There, these cells express several types of taste receptors along with a downstream coupling protein called gustducin. SCCs are taste-like chemical detectors that sense irritants and bacteria, and biologists have found them throughout the gut, urinary tract, nasal cavities, and now in the gums. "These sensory cells may provide a new approach for personalized treatment of periodontitis by harnessing a person's own innate immune system to regulate their oral microbiome," said Dr. Margolskee.
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