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Salivary Mucins Protect Surfaces from Colonization by Cariogenic Bacteria

Salivary Mucins Protect Surfaces from Colonization by Cariogenic Bacteria

  1. Katharina Ribbeckb
  1. aBiological Sciences in Dental Medicine, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  2. bDepartment of Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  1. J. L. Schottel, Editor


Understanding how the body's natural defenses function to protect the oral cavity from the myriad of bacteria that colonize its surfaces is an ongoing topic of research that can lead to breakthroughs in treatment and prevention. One key defense mechanism on all moist epithelial linings, such as the mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and lungs, is a layer of thick, well-hydrated mucus. The main gel-forming components of mucus are mucins, large glycoproteins that play a key role in host defense. This study focuses on elucidating the connection between MUC5B salivary mucins and dental caries, one of the most common oral diseases. Dental caries is predominantly caused by Streptococcus mutans attachment and biofilm formation on the tooth surface. Once S. mutans attaches to the tooth, it produces organic acids as metabolic by-products that dissolve tooth enamel, leading to cavity formation. We utilize CFU counts and fluorescence microscopy to quantitatively show that S. mutans attachment and biofilm formation are most robust in the presence of sucrose and that aqueous solutions of purified human MUC5B protect surfaces by acting as an antibiofouling agent in the presence of sucrose. In addition, we find that MUC5B does not alter S. mutans growth and decreases surface attachment and biofilm formation by maintaining S. mutans in the planktonic form. These insights point to the importance of salivary mucins in oral health and lead to a better understanding of how MUC5B could play a role in cavity prevention or diagnosis.


    • Received 6 August 2014.
    • Accepted 19 October 2014.
    • Accepted manuscript posted online 24 October 2014.
  • Address correspondence to Katharina Ribbeck, ribbeck{at}
  • Citation Frenkel ES, Ribbeck K. 2015. Salivary mucins protect surfaces from colonization by cariogenic bacteria. Appl Environ Microbiol 81:332–338. doi:10.1128/AEM.02573-14.

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