Common developmental pathways link tooth shape to regeneration

Gareth J. Fraser, Ryan F. Bloomquist, J. Todd Streelman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


In many non-mammalian vertebrates, adult dentitions result from cyclical rounds of tooth regeneration wherein simple unicuspid teeth are replaced by more complex forms. Therefore and by contrast to mammalian models, the numerical majority of vertebrate teeth develop shape during the process of replacement. Here, we exploit the dental diversity of Lake Malawi cichlid fishes to ask how vertebrates generally replace their dentition and in turn how this process acts to influence resulting tooth morphologies. First, we used immunohistochemistry to chart organogenesis of continually replacing cichlid teeth and discovered an epithelial down-growth that initiates the replacement cycle via a labial proliferation bias. Next, we identified sets of co-expressed genes from common pathways active during de novo, lifelong tooth replacement and tooth morphogenesis. Of note, we found two distinct epithelial cell populations, expressing markers of dental competence and cell potency, which may be responsible for tooth regeneration. Related gene sets were simultaneously active in putative signaling centers associated with the differentiation of replacement teeth with complex shapes. Finally, we manipulated targeted pathways (BMP, FGF, Hh, Notch, Wnt/Β-catenin) in vivo with small molecules and demonstrated dose-dependent effects on both tooth replacement and tooth shape. Our data suggest that the processes of tooth regeneration and tooth shape morphogenesis are integrated via a common set of molecular signals. This linkage has subsequently been lost or decoupled in mammalian dentitions where complex tooth shapes develop in first generation dentitions that lack the capacity for lifelong replacement. Our dissection of the molecular mechanics of vertebrate tooth replacement coupled to complex shape pinpoints aspects of odontogenesis that might be re-evolved in the lab to solve problems in regenerative dentistry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)399-414
Number of pages16
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 15 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Odontogenesis
  • Regeneration
  • Stem cells
  • Tooth replacement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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