BACKGROUND: Dental caries is an infectious disease which results from the acidic demineralisation of the tooth enamel and dentine as a consequence of the dental plaque (a microbial biofilm) accumulation. Research showed that several foods contain some components with antibacterial and antiplaque activity. Previous studies indicated antimicrobial and antiplaque activities in a low-molecular-mass (LMM) fraction of extracts from either an edible mushroom (Lentinus edodes) or from Italian red chicory (Cichorium intybus). METHODS: We have evaluated the antimicrobial mode of action of these fractions on Streptococcus mutans, the etiological agent of human dental caries. The effects on shape, macromolecular syntheses and cell proteome were analysed. RESULTS: The best antimicrobial activity has been displayed by the LMM mushroom extract with a bacteriostatic effect. At the MIC of both extracts DNA synthesis was the main macromolecular synthesis inhibited, RNA synthesis was less inhibited than that of DNA and protein synthesis was inhibited only by roughly 50%. The partial inhibition of protein synthesis is compatible with the observed significant increase in cell mass. The increase in these parameters is linked to the morphological alteration with transition from cocci of the untreated control to elongated cells. Interestingly, these modifications were also observed at sub-MIC concentrations. Finally, membrane and cytosol proteome analysis was conducted under LMM mushroom extract treatment in comparison with untreated S. mutans cells. Significant changes were observed for 31 membrane proteins and 20 of the cytosol fractions. The possible role of the changed proteins is discussed. CONCLUSIONS: This report has shown an antibiotic-like mode of action of mushroom and chicory extracts as demonstrated by induced morphogenetic effects and inhibition of specific macromolecular synthesis. This feature as well as the safe use of this extract as result of its natural origin render the LMM both mushroom and chicory extracts suitable for the formulation into products for daily oral hygiene such as mouthwashes or toothpastes.
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