‘Jailbreak’ bacteria can lead to heart disease

RCSI research shows that plaque-causing bacteria can affect geart health

Researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland have found a link between poor oral hygiene and heart failure.

Working with their colleagues at the University of Bristol they found that plaque-causing bacteria can effectively ‘jailbreak’ from the mouth into the bloodstream and increase the risk of heart attack.

The researchers have shown that once let loose in the bloodstream, Streptococcus bacteria – usually confined within dental biofilms – can use a protein on their surface, called PadA, as a weapon to force platelets in the blood to bind together and form clots.

Inducing blood clots is a selfish trick used by bacteria, Professor Jenkinson of the University of Bristol, said: “When the platelets clump together they completely encase the bacteria. This provides a protective cover not only from the immune system, but also from antibiotics that might be used to treat infection. Unfortunately, as well as helping out the bacteria, platelet clumping can cause small blood clots, growths on the heart valves (endocarditis) or inflammation of blood vessels that can block the blood supply to the heart and brain.”

The team is using a brand-new blood flow model, developed by Dr Steve Kerrigan at the RCSI, School of Pharmacy, Dublin, that mimics conditions in the human circulatory system. “We are currently investigating how the platelet-activating function of PadA can be blocked. This could eventually lead to new treatments for cardiovascular disease which is the biggest killer in the developed world,” said Professor Jenkinson.