A New Paradigm of Bone Loss

  • New knowledge is essential to combat the scourge of bone loss. As recently as 2005, the scientific community did not know what triggered periodontal bone loss in humans.
  • Monday, February 3, 2014
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Then Forsyth researchers published an unprecedented finding, proving that the major cause is the protein RANKL, activated by an immune response. This finding also has significant implications for other diseases that cause bone loss, including osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Forsyth scientist Toshihisa Kawai, DDS, PhD's discovery that periodontal bone loss is the result of an immune reaction fundamentally changed the understanding of this phenomenon. Until this finding, bone loss in periodontal disease was thought to be caused in a similar manner to the underlying periodontal disease, by microbial infection. The Kawai laboratory proved that the bone loss is set in motion by the protein RANKL, which is produced when bacteria stimulate an immune response in the patient.

Developing Therapeutic Approaches

Dr. Kawai and his colleagues are now using this discovery as the basis for possible therapeutic approaches to the treatment of periodontal disease, with the ultimate goal of preventing bone loss. One approach centers on fighting RANKL with a competitor protein. Another involves exploring the relationship of antimicrobial compounds, known as peptides, with periodontal disease. Starting from the working hypothesis that patients with severe periodontal disease may have fewer of these peptides, or that their peptides may have been destroyed by the disease, the Kawai laboratory is looking for ways to manipulate and increase the potency of these antimicrobial compounds.

Broader Applications

These avenues of exploration may have applications to consumer products. One example is enhancing toothpaste with biological substances derived from immune reactions rather than with chemical compounds. Further, the knowledge gained can potentially be applied to major systemic diseases involving bone loss.