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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Apr 10;98(8):4516-21. Epub 2001 Apr 3.

Differentiation of embryonic mesenchymal cells to odontoblast-like cells by overexpression of dentin matrix protein 1.

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Department of Oral Biology (M/C 690), University of Illinois, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.


Cells of the craniofacial skeleton are derived from a common mesenchymal progenitor. The regulatory factors that control their differentiation into various cell lineages are unknown. To investigate the biological function of dentin matrix protein 1 (DMP1), an extracellular matrix gene involved in calcified tissue formation, stable transgenic cell lines and adenovirally infected cells overexpressing DMP1 were generated. The findings in this paper demonstrate that overexpression of DMP1 in pluripotent and mesenchyme-derived cells such as C3H10T1/2, MC3T3-E1, and RPC-C2A can induce these cells to differentiate and form functional odontoblast-like cells. Functional differentiation of odontoblasts requires unique sets of genes being turned on and off in a growth- and differentiation-specific manner. The genes studied include transcription factors like core binding factor 1 (Cbfa1), bone morphogenetic protein 2 (BMP2), and BMP4; early markers for extracellular matrix deposition like alkaline phosphatase (ALP), osteopontin, osteonectin, and osteocalcin; and late markers like DMP2 and dentin sialoprotein (DSP) that are expressed by terminally differentiated odontoblasts and are responsible for the formation of tissue-specific dentin matrix. However, this differentiation pathway was limited to mesenchyme-derived cells only. Other cell lines tested by the adenoviral expression system failed to express odontoblast-phenotypic specific genes. An in vitro mineralized nodule formation assay demonstrated that overexpressed cells could differentiate and form a mineralized matrix. Furthermore, we also demonstrate that phosphorylation of Cbfa1 (osteoblast-specific transcription factor) was not required for the expression of odontoblast-specific genes, indicating the involvement of other unidentified odontoblast-specific transcription factors or coactivators. Cell lines that differentiate into odontoblast-like cells are useful tools for studying the mechanism involved in the terminal differentiation process of these postmitotic cells.

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