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Development. 1990 Jun;109(2):461-71.

Multiple functions for NGF receptor in developing, aging and injured rat teeth are suggested by epithelial, mesenchymal and neural immunoreactivity.

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Department of Anesthesiology, University of Washington, Seattle 98195.


We have used immunocytochemistry to analyse expression of nerve growth factor receptor (NGFR) in developing, aging and injured molar teeth of rats. The patterns of NGFR immunoreactivity (IR) in developing epithelia and mesenchyme matched the location of NGFR mRNA assayed by in situ hybridization with a complementary S35-labeled RNA probe. The following categories of NGFR expression were found. (1) There was NGFR-IR in the dental lamina epithelium and in adjacent mesenchyme during early stages of third molar formation. (2) NGFR-IR nerve fibers were posterior and close to the bud epithelium. (3) During crown morphogenesis NGFR expression was prominent in internal enamel epithelium and preodontoblasts; it faded as preameloblasts elongated and as odontoblasts began to make predentin matrix; and it was weak or absent from outer enamel epithelium, the cervical loop, and differentiated ameloblasts and odontoblasts. (4) When NGFR-IR nerve fibers entered the molars late in the bell stage, they innervated the most mature peripheral pulp and dentin in an asymmetric pattern which correlated more with asymmetric enamel synthesis than with mesenchymal NGFR-IR distribution. (5) The mesenchymal pulp cells continued to have intense NGFR expression in adult teeth, especially near coronal tubular dentin. (6) The pulpal NGFR-IR decreased in very old rats or subjacent to reparative dentin (naturally occurring or experimentally induced). (7) During root formation, the preodontoblasts had NGFR-IR but most root mesenchymal cells and Hertwig's epithelial root sheath did not. This work suggests that there are important epithelial and mesenchymal targets of NGF regulation during molar morphogenesis that differ for crown and root development and that do not correlate with neural development. The continuing expression of NGFR-IR by pulpal mesenchymal cells in adult rats was most intense near coronal odontoblasts making tubular dentin; and it was lost during aging, or subjacent to sites of dentin injury that caused a phenotypic change in the odontoblast layer.

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