The periodontal war: microbes and immunity

Jeffrey L. Ebersole, Dolph Dawson, Pinar Emecen-Huja, Radhakrishnan Nagarajan, Katherine Howard, Martha E. Grady, Katherine Thompson, Rebecca Peyyala, Ahmad Al-Attar, Kathryn Lethbridge, Sreenatha Kirakodu, Octavio A. Gonzalez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


Maintenance of periodontal health or transition to a periodontal lesion reflects the continuous and ongoing battle between the vast microbial ecology in the oral cavity and the array of resident and emigrating inflammatory/immune cells in the periodontium. This war clearly signifies many ‘battlefronts’ representing the interface of the mucosal-surface cells with the dynamic biofilms composed of commensal and potential pathogenic species, as well as more recent knowledge demonstrating active invasion of cells and tissues of the periodontium leading to skirmishes in connective tissue, the locality of bone and even in the local vasculature. Research in the discipline has uncovered a concerted effort of the microbiome, using an array of survival strategies, to interact with other bacteria and host cells. These strategies aid in colonization by ‘ambushing, infiltrating and outflanking’ host cells and molecules, responding to local environmental changes (including booby traps for host biomolecules), communicating within and between genera and species that provide MASINT (Measurement and Signature Intelligence) to enhance sustained survival, sabotage the host inflammatory and immune responses and by potentially adopting a ‘Fabian strategy’ with a war of attrition and resulting disease manifestations. Additionally, much has been learned regarding the ever-increasing complexity of the host-response armamentarium at both cellular and molecular levels that is addressed in this review. Knowledge regarding how these systems fully interact requires both new laboratory and clinical tools, as well as sophisticated modeling of the networks that help maintain homeostasis and are dysregulated in disease. Finally, the triggers resulting in a ‘coup de main’ by the microbiome (exacerbation of disease) and the characteristics of susceptible hosts that can result in ‘pyrrhic victories’ with collateral damage to host tissues, the hallmark of periodontitis, remains unclear. While much has been learned, substantial gaps in our understanding of the ‘parameters of this war’ remain elusive toward fulfilling the Sun Tzu adage: ‘If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-115
Number of pages64
JournalPeriodontology 2000
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 John Wiley & Sons A/S. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Periodontics


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