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J Dent Res. 2009 Apr;88(4):339-44. doi: 10.1177/0022034509334070.

TNF-alpha promotes an odontoblastic phenotype in dental pulp cells.

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Department of Periodontics and Oral Medicine, School of Dentistry, University of Michigan, 1011 N. University Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1078, USA.


Dental pulp cells can differentiate toward an odontoblastic phenotype to produce reparative dentin beneath caries lesions. However, the mechanisms involved in pulp cell differentiation under pro-inflammatory stimuli have not been well-explored. Thus, we hypothesized that the pro-inflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) could be a mediator involved in dental pulp cell differentiation toward an odontoblastic phenotype. We observed that TNF-alpha-challenged pulp cells exhibited increased mineralization and early and increased expression of dentin phosphoprotein (DPP), dentin sialoprotein (DSP), dentin matrix protein-1, and osteocalcin during a phase of reduced matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) expression. We investigated whether these events were related and found that p38, a mitogen-activated protein kinase, differentially regulated MMP-1 and DSP/DPP expression and mediated mineralization upon TNF-alpha treatment. These findings indicate that TNF-alpha stimulates differentiation of dental pulp cells toward an odontoblastic phenotype via p38, while negatively regulating MMP-1 expression.

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