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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Use of 16S ribosomal RNA gene analyses to characterize the bacterial signature associated with poor oral health in West Virginia

Joan C Olson1*, Christopher F Cuff1, Slawomir Lukomski1, Ewa Lukomska12, Yeremi Canizales3, Bei Wu4, Richard J Crout5, John G Thomas6, Daniel W McNeil7, Robert J Weyant8, Mary L Marazita109, Bruce J Paster1112 and Thomas Elliott1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA

2 Health Effects Laboratory Division, CDC, NIOSH, Morgantown, WV, USA

3 School of Dentistry, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA

4 School of Nursing, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC, USA

5 Department of Periodontology, School of Dentistry, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA

6 Department of Pathology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA

7 Department of Clinical Psychology and Clinical Professor of Dental Practice and Rural Health, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA

8 Department of Dental Public Health and Information Management, University of Pittsburgh, School of Dental Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

9 Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics, Department of Oral Biology, School of Dental Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA

10 Department of Human Genetics, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

11 Department of Molecular Genetics, The Forsyth Institute, Cambridge, MA

12 Department of Oral Medicine, Infection and Immunity, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

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BMC Oral Health 2011, 11:7  doi:10.1186/1472-6831-11-7

Published: 1 March 2011



West Virginia has the worst oral health in the United States, but the reasons for this are unclear. This pilot study explored the etiology of this disparity using culture-independent analyses to identify bacterial species associated with oral disease.


Bacteria in subgingival plaque samples from twelve participants in two independent West Virginia dental-related studies were characterized using 16S rRNA gene sequencing and Human Oral Microbe Identification Microarray (HOMIM) analysis. Unifrac analysis was used to characterize phylogenetic differences between bacterial communities obtained from plaque of participants with low or high oral disease, which was further evaluated using clustering and Principal Coordinate Analysis.


Statistically different bacterial signatures (P < 0.001) were identified in subgingival plaque of individuals with low or high oral disease in West Virginia based on 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Low disease contained a high frequency of Veillonella and Streptococcus, with a moderate number of Capnocytophaga. High disease exhibited substantially increased bacterial diversity and included a large proportion of Clostridiales cluster bacteria (Selenomonas, Eubacterium, Dialister). Phylogenetic trees constructed using 16S rRNA gene sequencing revealed that Clostridiales were repeated colonizers in plaque associated with high oral disease, providing evidence that the oral environment is somehow influencing the bacterial signature linked to disease.


Culture-independent analyses identified an atypical bacterial signature associated with high oral disease in West Virginians and provided evidence that the oral environment influenced this signature. Both findings provide insight into the etiology of the oral disparity in West Virginia.