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Alzheimer’s starts in the mouth? Gum disease, oral bacteria strongly linked to mind-robbing condition

Shyla Cadogan - Brain Tomorrow


Researchers from the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine suggest a link between a common bacteria that promotes the progression of periodontal disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Jake Jinkun Chen, professor of periodontology and director of the Division of Oral Biology at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, and his colleagues believe that targeting Fusobacterium nucleatum (F. nucleatum) can kill two birds with one stone, slowing the progression of both diseases.

Recently, researchers have found that F. nucleatum is linked to a variety of conditions ranging from premature baby delivery to colorectal cancer. In the case of periodontal disease, the bacteria impacts the gums and jaw. If left untreated, it can result in loose teeth and loss teeth. It can also exacerbate inflammation, which is a symptom of most chronic disease, like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

In Chen’s latest research, experiments were first done to note the relationship between the bacteria and microglial cells. These are immune cells within the brain that remove damaged neurons and maintain the health of the central nervous system. Mice were used to conduct the experiments, and it was found that F. nucleatum results in abnormal growth of microglial cells.  


Due to an increase in these cells, the body seemed to respond by increasing inflammation. Chronic inflammation is considered key in determining neurodegeneration progression in Alzheimer’s disease patients. “Our studies show that F. nucleatum can reduce the memory and thinking skills in mice through certain signal pathways. This is a warning sign to researchers and clinicians alike,” says Chen, in a statement.

Links between this and periodontal disease have been made in the past by researchers, and largely due to inflammation. While this latest researcher doesn’t show that periodontal disease perfectly leads to Alzheimer’s disease, it does worsen symptoms if it’s caused by F. nucleatum and is left untreated.  


“In this study, our lab is the first to find that Fusobacterium nucleatum can generate systemic inflammation and even infiltrate nervous system tissues and exacerbate the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease,” adds Chen.  


Their lab has also designed a molecule called adipoAI, which is anti-inflammatory and can combat this bacteria. Chen hopes that their work and findings can support the start of clinical trials to measure efficacy. This means that their research has great therapeutic potential for discovering drugs that target exact pathways to mitigate progression of various diseases, especially early-stage Alzheimer’s.


The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

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