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Cell Tissue Res. 1999 Oct;298(1):95-103.

Cell proliferation and death of Hertwig's epithelial root sheath in the rat.

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Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Tokyo Women's Medical University, School of Medicine, Japan.


Hertwig's epithelial root sheath (HERS) degenerates immediately after root dentin is formed. However, odontogenic tumors or cysts may originate from residual cells, although little is known about how HERS proliferates and disappears. This study investigated whether cell death is provoked in the tissues surrounding the root during eruption of the rat upper molar. We employed the TdT-mediated-dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL) method and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to observe the morphological features of cell death. We examined the activity of cell proliferation immunohistochemically using proliferative cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) and the continuity of HERS using polyclonal keratin antibody (PK). Cell death resembling apoptosis and apoptotic bodies phagocytosed by neighboring mesenchymal cells were detected in only a few cells by both TUNEL and TEM. We also found cells with electron-lucent cytoplasm which contained dilated or ruptured mitochondria and remarkably dilated rough endoplasmic reticulum (rER) which lay sparsely along the root. These cells seemed to be dead HERS cells based on their ultrastructural features, location, and stage. PCNA-positive cells were found in the apical end of the HERS cells, fibroblasts of the periodontal ligament, and odontoblasts. PK reacted with HERS; however, PK-positive cells partially disappeared after the 15th postnatal day when the root dentin had formed slightly. These results may indicate that HERS cells migrate into the periodontal ligament or die immediately after root dentin is formed and that various types of cell death such as apoptosis and cytoplasmic type occur in the tissues surrounding the root during tooth development.

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