The Rittling lab is focused on understanding the mechanism of action of the small integrin binding protein osteopontin, particularly in the context of the host response to endodontic infections, as well as the oral bacterial species Prevotella intermedia in association with endodontic infection.
A main focus of the Rittling lab is understanding the mechanism of action of the small integrin binding protein osteopontin, particularly in the context of the host response to endodontic infections. These infections result from oral bacteria reaching the dental pulp, where they become established, causing pain and bone loss. The treatment for these infections is root canal treatment: on average, every American will undergo this treatment at some point in their lives. Understanding the host response to these infections is expected to lead to new treatment modalities.
Neutrophils are the primary cell responding to these infections, and osteopontin functions to facilitate the migration of neutrophils to sites of infection. Osteopontin binds to a series of integrins, and its effects in mouse neutrophil migration is mediated by the av integrin. We have shown that OPN participates in the regulation of the chemokine receptor CXCR2, and are working to understand the mechanism of this interaction.
An additional area of interest in the lab is the oral bacterial species Prevotella intermedia, frequently found associated with endodontic infection. We discovered that P. intermedia produces a cytotoxic activity that kills neutrophils and human T-cells, and likely contributes to the virulence of endodontic infections. We are working on identifying this cytotoxin and determining its role in mouse models of endodontic infection as well as in human disease. Work with this organism is hampered by the lack of a genetic system, so development of this system is an additional area of interest.