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Development. 2001 Nov;128(22):4605-13.

The role of effectors of the activin signalling pathway, activin receptors IIA and IIB, and Smad2, in patterning of tooth development.

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Department of Craniofacial Development, GKT Dental Institute, Kings College London, Floor 28 Guy's Hospital, London Bridge, London SE1 9RT, UK.


The gene for activin betaA is expressed in the early odontogenic mesenchyme of all murine teeth but mutant mice show a patterning defect where incisors and mandibular molars fail to develop but maxillary molars develop normally. In order to understand why maxillary molar tooth development can proceed in the absence of activin, we have explored the role of mediators of activin signalling in tooth development. Analysis of tooth development in activin receptor II and Smad2 mutants shows that a similar tooth phenotype to activin betaA mutants can be observed. In addition, we identify a novel downstream target of activin signalling, the Iroquois-related homeobox gene, Irx1, and show that its expression in activin betaA mutant embryos is lost in all tooth germs, including the maxillary molars. These results strongly suggest that other transforming growth factor beta molecules are not stimulating the activin signalling pathway in the absence of activin. This was confirmed by a non-genetic approach using exogenous soluble receptors to inhibit all activin signalling in tooth development, which reproduced the genetic phenotypes. Activin, thus, has an essential role in early development of incisor and mandibular molar teeth but this pathway is not required for development of maxillary molars.

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