High expression levels of receptor activator of nuclear factor-kappa B ligand associated with human chronic periodontitis are mainly secreted by CD4+ T lymphocytes
Background: Chronic periodontitis is an infectious disease characterized by alveolar bone destruction and teeth loss. Receptor activator of nuclear factor-kappa B ligand (RANKL) is an osteoclastogenic cytokine, a central regulatory factor in the osteoclast's lifespan, and a participant in physiological and pathological bone resorption. Gingival T cells synthesize RANKL, contributing to molecular local imbalance that entails the alveolar bone resorption seen in periodontitis. Our study was aimed at associating the levels of RANKL with the CD4+ T-cell activity present in gingival tissues of chronic periodontitis patients. Methods: Gingival biopsies were obtained from 33 chronic periodontitis patients and 20 healthy controls. Specimens were either formalin fixed and paraffin embedded for real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and histologic analysis or tissue digestion processed for cell culture and flow-cytometry analysis. RANKL mRNA and protein levels were determined by quantitative RT-PCR and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) in gingival-cell culture supernatants. Gingival leukocytes were quantified by flow cytometry. RANKL and CD4 immunoreactivity were analyzed by flow cytometry and confocal microscopy. Results: RANKL mRNA levels were higher in patients with periodontitis than in healthy subjects, and spontaneous and lipopolysaccharide (LPS)- and phytohemagglutinin (PHA)-stimulated RANKL synthesis were higher also in patients than controls. CD4+ T lymphocytes were the predominant infiltrate cell subset present in gingival tissues of periodontitis patients. Furthermore, an association between RANKL and CD4+ T cells was determined by double-staining flow cytometry and confocal microscopy. Conclusion: Taken together, these data demonstrate that gingival CD4+ T cells are the main cells responsible for higher levels of RANKL observed in human chronic periodontitis patients.