In a recent study at the University of California, San Francisco, researchers found that pathogens found in tissues that surround the teeth contribute to a highly aggressive type of oral cancer.
They also showed that oral cancer formation mediated by the pathogens is inhibited by a bacteriocin—an antimicrobial and probiotic peptide that is produced by bacteria.
The study is published in PLOS Pathogens. One author is Yvonne Kapila.
Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) is one of the most common cancers worldwide.
Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC), a subset of HNSCC, accounts for 90% of all oral malignancies, and it has a poor five-year survival rate that has not changed in decades.
Risk factors, including smoking, alcohol drinking, and human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, alone have not been sufficient to explain the incidence and aggressive nature of OSCC.
Other factors such as oral pathogens may play an important role in OSCC tumor development, progression, and metastasis, yet this has not been well explored.
In the study, the team tested whether OSCC is promoted by periodontal pathogens (i.e., those affecting the structures surrounding and supporting the teeth).
They found that three types of periodontal pathogens (Porphyromonas gingivalis, Treponema denticola, and Fusobacterium nucleatum) enhanced OSCC cell migration, invasion, and tumor formation in mice.
The processes were inhibited by treatment with nisin—a bacteriocin and a commonly used food preservative.
According to the researchers, this study offers the first direct evidence that a bacteriocin inhibits oral cancer formation mediated by periodontal pathogens.
Moreover, the findings suggest that nisin could have broad therapeutic potential as an antimicrobial and anticancer agent, and as an inhibitor of pathogen-mediated cancer formation.
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