Department of Biomedical Sciences, School of Dentistry, University of Maryland, 666 West Baltimore St, Rm 4G31, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, School of Medicine, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Fresh noma is a severe orofacial necrosis with an astonishingly rapid development. It is seen mainly in malnourished children less than 4 years old from developing countries. Cytokines play a central role in oral mucosal inflammation. We therefore studied the relevance of circulating cytokines to noma, and the key microorganisms associated with the lesion. Nigerian village children with acute noma (n=68) and their neighborhood village (n=63) as well as urban (n=45) counterparts of comparable age and free of overt infections were evaluated for serum cytokine levels by ELISA. Oral bacteria were studied by polymerase chain reaction. Evaluation of random cases of the village and noma children showed marked depletion (p<0.05 or 0.001) of the plasma antioxidant micronutrients (retinol, ascorbic acid, zinc) as well as albumin and blood hemoglobin in the latter, relative to the former group. Concentrations of the circulating, pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-18, IL-6, IL-12, IL-8, IFN-γ) and the soluble inhibitors (TNFR-p55, TNFR-p75 and IL-1ra) were significantly higher (p< 0.01 or 0.001) in noma children than in the healthy urban children, but less so when compared to their neighborhood village counterparts. The increase in levels of the anti-inflammatory/regulatory cytokines (IL-4, IL-10 and TGF-β) was less marked relative to the pro-inflammatory cytokines. Bacteria observed at the highest frequencies in noma lesions were P. intermedia (83%), T. forsythensis (83%), P. gingivalis (50%), C. rectus (50%) and T. denticola (50%). We conclude that noma is an immunopathological response to potent bacterial factors resulting in uncontrolled production of cytokines and possibly other, still unknown, inflammatory mediators.