Study suggests statins could help fight gum disease

In addition to your arteries, can your mouth benefit from taking statins? A new study in cell cultures shows that cholesterol-lowering drugs may help suppress inflammation associated with periodontal disease by changing the behavior of macrophages, a type of immune cell.

Statins are the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States today, with more than 40 million Americans taking them to lower cholesterol. Studies show these medications can improve gum health and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Research published at Discover BMB in San Antonio shows that statins help reduce inflammation associated with periodontal disease by changing the way certain immune cells behave.

Research published at Discover BMB in San Antonio shows that statins help reduce inflammation associated with periodontal disease by changing the way immune cells behave.

Subramanya Pandruvada, assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina School of Dentistry, oversaw the work.

“During the course of our research, we replicated the specific conditions of periodontal disease and demonstrated that introducing statins into our in vitro model can alter the macrophage response,” Pandrewada said. “This allows us to explore how drugs like statins can help us treat inflammatory diseases like periodontal disease.”

Pandruvada will present the new research at Discover BMB, the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, March 23-26 in San Antonio. The study's lead authors are periodontology dental resident Waleed Alkakhan and Medical University of South Carolina dental student Nico Farrar.

Periodontal disease occurs when the growth of bacteria in the gums causes an inflammatory response by the immune system, leading to symptoms such as swelling, bleeding, and bone deterioration. If left untreated, tooth loss may result. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of adults over the age of 30 have some form of periodontal disease.

Current treatments for advanced periodontal disease include antibiotics, deep cleaning of the tooth and root surfaces, and various surgical procedures. Researchers are looking for new ways to alleviate gum disease through less invasive treatment strategies.

Some previous studies have shown that people who take statins tend to show fewer symptoms of periodontitis than those who don't take statins. The new study is the first to trace the biochemical pathways by which statins reduce periodontal inflammation.

“Recent periodontal literature suggests that statins have beneficial effects when combined with traditional periodontal therapy,” Pandrewada said. “However, our study highlights a new way in which statins specifically affect macrophages, and through this mechanism, could help treat periodontal disease.”

Macrophages play an important role in helping the body fight infection; however, they can also exacerbate inflammation, depending on the form they take during different stages of the immune response. The researchers cultured macrophages and gum cells together for the study and exposed them to various conditions. They found that exposure to simvastatin, a common statin, suppressed the inflammatory response of macrophages.

Next, the researchers plan to study the effects of statins on periodontal disease in animal models to determine whether this strategy may be a safe and effective approach to periodontal treatment in the future.

The new findings build on the team's preliminary results published last year in the journal cell.

Subramanya Pandruvada will Present this research (Poster Board No. 148) on Monday, March 25, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm CT in the Henry B. González Convention Center Exhibit Hall (Abstract).

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