An enzyme related to both longevity and cancer has been linked with periodontitis, according to a recent study in the Journal of Periodontology.
The human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT) enzyme is one of the most important components of telomerase, which helps prevent the shortening of telomeres—segments at the end of chromosomes that regulate cell division and are widely accepted as a marker of cellular aging. However, when telomerase expression is high, it can result in malignancy and cancer.
Researchers in this study found that aggressive periodontitis was significantly associated with higher expression of hTERT—even more so than chronic periodontitis. Interestingly, this increased hTERT expression correlated with clinical signs of periodontal disease—gingival index, plaque index, clinical attachment loss, and probing depth—in those patients with chronic periodontitis but not in those with aggressive periodontitis.
hTERT was not detected at all in healthy individuals, leading researchers to believe that hTERT levels might be good “prognostic marker.”
Not only might hTERT be an important indication of the progression of periodontal disease, research has shown that increased expression of telomerase is significantly associated with many types of cancer. In fact, 90% of cancers are associated with increased telomerase activity.
Periodontal disease and the bacteria that cause it have been connected with several types of cancer as well as increased mortality from certain cancers. If researchers can find the mechanism that connects hTERT and chronic periodontitis, it will perhaps give us greater insight into the connection between periodontal disease and cancer and give us a greater opportunity to reduce risk and improve outcomes.