Introduction: Collagen-degrading matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are expressed by odontoblasts and present in dentin. We hypothesized that odontoblasts express other collagen-degrading enzymes such as cysteine cathepsins, and their activity would be present in dentin, because odontoblasts are known to express at least cathepsin D. Effect of transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β) on cathepsin expression was also analyzed. Methods: Human odontoblasts and pulp tissue were cultured with and without TGF-β, and cathepsin gene expression was analyzed with DNA microarrays. Dentin cathepsin and MMP activities were analyzed by degradation of respective specific fluorogenic substrates. Results: Both odontoblasts and pulp tissue demonstrated a wide range of cysteine cathepsin expression that gave minor responses to TGF-β. Cathepsin and MMP activities were observed in all dentin samples, with significant negative correlations in their activities with tooth age. Conclusions: These results demonstrate for the first time the presence of cysteine cathepsins in dentin and suggest their role, along with MMPs, in dentin modification with aging.
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