Patients with cleft lip/palate (CLP) have been reported, in some studies, to exhibit an increased prevalence of caries, although the underlying cause for this increase is unknown. In genetically defined mouse models, studies of postnatal sequelae associated with CLP have been hampered by neonatal lethality. Using a conditional targeting approach, we ablated the major CLP gene Irf6 only in the late embryonic oral epithelium (Irf6 cKO), bypassing the role of the gene in lip and palate morphogenesis and thus ensuring survival to adulthood. We report that Irf6 cKO mice present with 1) dysplastic salivary glands due to disruptions of epithelial junctional complexes, likely secondary to elevated activation of RHO GTPases, and 2) increased salivary cell proliferation. These changes result in significantly reduced saliva flow rate and buffering capacity and increased mucus acidity. A marked decrease in expression of CCL27, one of the major mucosal and skin cytokines, was found that correlated with increased bacterial colonization of the oral cavity with the cariogenic pathogen Streptococcus mutans and other bacteria. When placed on a high-sugar diet, Irf6 cKO mice show a 35-fold increase in presentation and severity of dental caries as compared with wild-type control mice. Strikingly, within the 8-wk test period, many molars extensively dissolved, and there was progressive loss of the alveolar bone, likely as a result of increased colonization of periodontal pathogens. These data provide the first mechanistic insight into the heightened caries susceptibility associated with CLP and indicate a direct role for the major CLP gene Irf6 in salivary gland development and a significant role in regulating oral immunity. Our data suggest that careful evaluation of salivary gland function and the implementation of early oral health preventive strategies are warranted to reduce the burden of dental care in this at-risk population.
- craniofacial biology/genetics
- dental caries susceptibility
- mucosal immunity
- orofacial cleft(s)
- periodontal disease/periodontitis
- salivary antimicrobial proteins