The adhesion of Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans is a virulence factor in the aetiology of periodontitis and is determined by physico-chemical properties, e.g. surface charge and hydrophobicity, of the bacterial cell surface. Although oral surfaces are constantly coated with saliva, few studies have dealt with the binding of A. actinomycetemcomitans with saliva. In this report, the charge properties of A. actinomycetemcomitans have been studied through measurement of the zeta potential and the saliva-bacteria interaction investigated at different pH-values.
At physiological conditions the zeta potential was negative, varying from −11 to −26 mV, for two laboratory and two fresh isolates of A. actinomycetemcomitans. Under these conditions, binding of the low-molecular-weight salivary mucin, lactoferrin, and S-IgA was confirmed using salivary samples and purified salivary fractions in liquid-phase and in ELISA. The iso-electric points of the laboratory and fresh clinical isolates of A. actinomycetemcomitans were determined at pH 4.6 and 3.8, respectively. At pH below the iso-electric point, giving positive values of the zeta potential, additional salivary protein species bound to A. actinomycetemcomitans, including the high-molecular-weight salivary mucin (MG1) and agglutinin. Binding of the low-molecular-weight salivary mucin (MG2), lactoferrin, and S-IgA, was hardly affected by this change in zeta potential. A salivary coating formed on the bacterium at pH 7 reduced the zeta potential of the laboratory strain Y4 greatly and an iso-electric point for the bacterium could not be determined. Overall, the study suggests that upon changes in environmental pH additional salivary attachment sites on the micro-organism are exposed.