Oral bacteria may trigger blood clots

Oral bacteria that escape into the bloodstream can cause blood clots and trigger life-threatening growths on heart valves, according to a team of U.K. researchers.

Streptococcus gordonii normally inhabits the mouth and contributes to plaque that forms on the surface of teeth. If these bacteria enter into the bloodstream through bleeding gums, they can start to wreak havoc by masquerading as human proteins, according to a study by the Royal College of Surgeons and the University of Bristol being presented at the Society for General Microbiology's annual meeting this week in Dublin.

The researchers discovered that S. gordonii can produce a molecule on its surface that mimics the human protein fibrinogen, a blood-clotting factor. This in turn activates the platelets, causing them to clump inside blood vessels, which can lead to endocarditis. The blood clots encase the bacteria, protecting them from the immune system and from antibiotics that treat infection.

The research team is also looking at other oral biofilm bacteria that may have similar effects to S. gordonii. Additional studies could lead to new drugs to treat infective heart disease, according to the researchers.

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