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The Genetic Control of Early Tooth Development

The Genetic Control of Early Tooth Development


Most vertebrate organs begin their initial formation by a common, developmentally conserved pattern of inductive tissue interactions between two tissues. The developing tooth germ is a prototype for such inductive tissue interactions and provides a powerful experimental system for elucidation of the genetic pathways involved in organogenesis. Members of the Msx homeobox gene family are expressed at sites of epithelial-mesenchymal interaction during embryogenesis, including the tooth. The important role that Msx genes play in tooth development is exemplified by mice lacking Msx gene function. Msxldeficient mice exhibit an arrest in tooth development at the bud stage, while Msx2-deficient mice exhibit late defects in tooth development. The co-expression of Msx, Bmp, L ef 1, and Activin βA genes and the coincidence of tooth phenotypes in the various knockout mice suggest that these genes reside within a common genetic pathway. Results summarized here indicate that Msx 1 is required for the transmission of Bmp4 expression from dental epithelium to mesenchyme and also for L ef 1 expression. In addition, we consider the role of other signaling molecules in the epithelial-mesenchymal interactions leading to tooth formation, the role that transcription factors such as Msx play in the propagation of inductive signals, and the role of extracellular matrix. Last, as a unifying mechanism to explain the disparate tooth phenotypes in Msxl- and Msx2-deficient mice, we propose that later steps in tooth morphogenesis molecularly resemble those in early tooth development.
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