Beyond the specific plaque hypothesis: Are highly leukotoxic strains of Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans a paradigm for periodontal pathogenesis?

J. M. Guthmiller, E. T. Lally, J. Korostoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

37 Scopus citations


Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans is a facultative anaerobe implicated in a variety of periodontal diseases. Its presence is most closely associated with localized juvenile periodontitis (LJP), although the exact role of the organism in this and other periodontal diseases is not entirely clear. While A. actinomycetemcomitans produces several different putative virulence factors, the most widely studied is the leukotoxin. The leukotoxin selectively kills polymorphonuclear leukocytes and macrophages in vitro, constituting the host's first line of defense. Interestingly, even though all strains of A. actinomycetemcomitans have the genes encoding the leukotoxin, there is variability in leukotoxin expression. Differences in the structure of the promoter region of the leukotoxin gene operon were shown to correlate directly with levels of leukotoxin production. Highly leukotoxic forms appear to exhibit increased pathogenic potential, as evidenced by recent studies that have shown a significant association between the prevalence of such strains and the occurrence of LJP in several different populations. This represents the first demonstration of an association between a particular subset of a pathogenic species and a specific periodontal disease. Early identification of A. actinomycetemcomitans by microbial and genetic assays to evaluate leukotoxicity may enhance the efficacy of preventive and/or therapeutic techniques. Future investigations should continue to evaluate pathogenic variations of additional virulence factors expressed in vivo, not only of A. actinomycetemcomitans, but also of other periodontal bacteria and infectious disease pathogens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)116-124
Number of pages9
JournalCritical Reviews in Oral Biology and Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2001



  • Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans
  • LJP
  • Leukotoxin
  • Periodontal disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Dentistry(all)

Cite this