Author: Paul E. Kolenbrander,* Roxanna N. Andersen, David S. Blehert, Paul G. Egland,
Published on: MICROBIOLOGY AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY REVIEWS, Sept. 2002, p. 486–505 Vol. 66, No. 3
Human oral bacteria interact with their environment by attaching to surfaces and establishing mixed-species communities. As each bacterial cell attaches, it forms a new surface to which other cells can adhere. Adherence and community development are spatiotemporal; such order requires communication.
The discovery of soluble signals, such as autoinducer-2, that may be exchanged within multispecies communities to convey information between organisms has emerged as a new research direction. Direct-contact signals, such as adhesins and receptors, that elicit changes in gene expression after cell-cell contact and biofilm growth are also an active research area.
Considering that the majority of oral bacteria are organized in dense three-dimensional biofilms on teeth, confocal microscopy and fluorescently labeled probes provide valuable approaches for investigating the architecture of these organized communities in situ. Oral biofilms are readily accessible to microbiologists and are excellent model systems for studies of microbial communication. One attractive model system is a saliva-coated flowcell with oral bacterial biofilms growing on saliva as the sole nutrient source; an intergeneric mutualism is discussed.
Several oral bacterial species are amenable to genetic manipulation for molecular characterization of communication both among bacteria and between bacteria and the host. A successful search for genes critical for mixed-species community organization will be accomplished only when it is conducted with mixed-species communities.