Reciprocal interactions between oral ectodermal and ectomesenhymal cells play crucial role in the guidance and control of the processes of tooth initiation, morphogenesis, and hard tissue formation. Less is known about signal molecules regulating the differentiation of ameloblasts, which produce the enamel. In Thesleff s laboratory there are transgenic mouse models, which can provide novel tools for analysis of the molecular regulation of ameloblast function. The continuously growing mouse incisor provides an excellent model system where the maintenance as well as advancing differentiation of stem cells can be monitored. Analysis of the molecules involved in stem cell maintenance and differentiation can be expected to share similarities in different organs, and hence this work will be of general importance in the area of stem cell research.
The main goal of the planned research is to learn to understand the formation of dental enamel: we will analyse how the cells producing enamel differentiate from stem cells in the dental epithelium. We will also focus on the role of signal molecules in regulation of ameloblast differentiation. Finally, we try to develop a cell culture model for ameloblast precursor differentiation, which could be used for enamel matrix production in the future.
The understanding of the cues stimulating enamel formation can perhaps be used in the future for means for enamel regeneration and lead to new ways to produce this important biomaterial. Enhancing our knowledge on the stem cell biology is pivotal, e.g ., for successful release of appropriate molecules to improve tissue healing or to promote regeneration of oro-facial tissues. In general, the consequences of this information can have important implications and commercial applications via developing novel clinical approaches such as forced periodontal regeneration using enamel extracts and replacement of damaged oral structures by using tissues developed from stem cells.
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