Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Alligator stem cell study paves the way for tooth regeneration in humans

Unlike most vertebrates which can replace lost teeth through their entire lives, humans come with only two sets, baby teeth and adult teeth, then they simply lose the ability for tooth renewal.. However, a new study on alligators by researchers at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California (USC) may someday allow doctors to stimulate tooth regeneration in humans as well.

Alligators have teeth very similar to the ones we humans have. They are well organised, with similar form and structure. The main difference is that when an adult human loses a tooth, it’s gone forever, while an alligator's tooth may be replaced up to 50 times over its lifetime. This is what makes them a perfect model for studying mammalian tooth replacement, said the researchers.

Image of an American alligator
American alligator

"Humans naturally only have two sets of teeth, baby teeth and adult teeth. Ultimately, we want to identify stem cells that can be used as a resource to stimulate tooth renewal in adult humans who have lost teeth. But, to do that, we must first understand how they renew in other animals and why they stop in people." said USC Professor Cheng-Ming Chuong, leading author of the study.

Using a microscopic imaging technique called multiple mitotic labelling, the USC scientists discovered that each alligator tooth is a complex unit made of three components, each appearing in different developmental stages:

  • A functional tooth
  • A replacement tooth
  • The dental lamina, a band of epithelial tissue seen in histologic sections of a developing tooth.





These tooth units are structured to enable a smooth transition from dislodgement of the functional, mature tooth to replacement with the new tooth. The researchers then found that alligator dental laminae contains a population of stem cells, from which new teeth arise when needed.

"Stem cells divide more slowly than other cells do. The cells in the alligator's dental lamina behaved like we would expect stem cells to behave. In the future, we hope to isolate those cells from the dental lamina to see whether we can use them to regenerate teeth in the lab. " explained co-author of the study Randall B. Widelitz.

The researchers now intend to identify the deeper mechanisms involved in alligator tooth regeneration with the hope to apply this knowledge in human patients.

"Understanding how these signalling molecules interact in tooth development in this model may help us to learn how to stimulate growth of adult teeth in mammals." an extract from the study.

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References
Wu, P., Wu, X., Jiang, T., Elsey, R., Temple, B., Divers, S., Glenn, T., Yuan, K., Chen, M., Widelitz, R., & Chuong, C. (2013). Specialized stem cell niche enables repetitive renewal of alligator teeth Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1213202110 

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