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Dev Biol. 2008 Jul 1;319(1):132-45. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2008.03.004. Epub 2008 Mar 15.

Initiation and patterning of the snake dentition are dependent on Sonic hedgehog signaling.

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Department of Oral Health Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.


Here we take the first look at cellular dynamics and molecular signaling in the developing snake dentition. We found that tooth formation differs from rodents in several respects. The majority of snake teeth bud off of a deep, ribbon-like dental lamina rather than as separate tooth germs. Prior to and after dental lamina ingrowth, we observe asymmetries in cell proliferation and extracellular matrix distribution suggesting that localized signaling by a secreted protein is involved. We cloned Sonic hedgehog from the African rock python Python sebae and traced its expression in the species as well as in two other snakes, the closely-related Python regius and the more derived corn snake Elaphe guttata (Colubridae). We found that expression of Shh is first confined to the odontogenic band and defines the position of the future dental lamina. Shh transcripts in pythons are progressively restricted to the oral epithelium on one side of the dental lamina and remain in this position throughout the prehatching period. Shh is expressed in the inner enamel epithelium and the stellate reticulum of the tooth anlagen, but is absent from the outer enamel epithelium and its derivative, the successional lamina. This suggests that signals other than Shh are responsible for replacement tooth formation. Functional studies using cyclopamine to block Hh signaling during odontogenesis prevented initiation and extension of the dental lamina into the mesenchyme, and also affected the directionality of this process. Further, blocking Hh signaling led to disruptions of the inner enamel epithelium. To explore the role of Shh in lamina extension, we looked at its expression in the premaxillary teeth, which form closer to the oral surface than elsewhere in the mouth. Oral ectodermal Shh expression in premaxillary teeth is lost soon after the teeth form reinforcing the idea that Shh is controlling the depth of the dental lamina. In summary, we have found diverse roles for Shh in patterning the snake dentition but, have excluded the participation of this signal in replacement tooth formation.

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