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How mice renew teeth could inform regeneration research in humans

October 21, 2019

By Mary Beth Versaci

New findings related to tooth regeneration in mice could offer insights into how human teeth could potentially be regenerated.

Ophir Klein, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of orofacial sciences, human genetics and pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, has been researching how adult stem cells drive tooth renewal in rodents, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, which provided funding for his work.

Dr. Klein. Courtesy of Steve Babuliak, University of California, San Francisco
Dr. Klein was one of the first recipients of the institute's Sustaining Outstanding Achievement in Research award in 2015. The award provides as much as eight years of funding for "long-term research programs that have extraordinary potential," according to the institute.

As part of their research, Dr. Klein and his fellow investigators examined how different cells in the mice's dental epithelium behave, where they are located within the epithelium and how the epithelium recovers from injury.

They found stem cells in the epithelium actively divide, even under steady conditions, and are located in the inner area of the epithelium, according to the institute. These findings challenge previous understandings that epithelial stem cells were fairly inactive and located in the outer area.

When faced with injury, the stem cells became more abundant and active, and some converted into enamel-producing ameloblasts that could then regenerate the damaged tissue, according to the institute.

"Although there is not a direct link between ever-growing rodent teeth and human teeth, we believe that by understanding the fundamental mechanisms by which nature normally renews teeth across different types of animals, we will be able to lay a foundation for human tooth regeneration," Dr. Klein said.

The research was published in September in Nature Cell Biology.