Epithelial cells express keratins, which are essential for the structural integrity and mechanical strength of the cells. In the junctional epithelium (JE) of the tooth, keratins such as K16, K18, and K19, are expressed, which is typical for non-differentiated and rapidly dividing cells. The expression of K17, K4, and K13 keratins can be induced by injury, bacterial irritation, smoking, and inflammation. In addition, these keratins can be found in the sulcular epithelium and in the JE. Our aim was to estimate the changes in K4, K13, K17, and K19 expression in gingival epithelial cells exposed to Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans.
An organotypic gingival mucosa and biofilm co-culture was used as a model system. The effect of the biofilm after 24 h was assessed using immunohistochemistry. The structure of the epithelium was also studied with transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The expression of K17 and K19, as well as total keratin expression, decreased in the suprabasal layers of epithelium, which were in close contact with the A. actinomycetemcomitans
biofilm. The effect on keratin expression was biofilm specific. The expression of K4 and K13 was low in all of the tested conditions. When stimulated with the A. actinomycetemcomitans
biofilm, the epithelial contact site displayed a thick necrotic layer on the top of the epithelium. The A. actinomycetemcomitans
biofilm released vesicles, which were found in close contact with the epithelium. After A. actinomycetemcomitans
irritation, gingival epithelial cells may lose their resistance and become more vulnerable to bacterial infection.
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