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Scientists discover why teeth form in a single row
Date:2/26/2009

A system of opposing genetic forces determines why mammals develop a single row of teeth, while sharks sport several, according to a study published today in the journal Science. When completely understood, the genetic program described in the study may help guide efforts to re-grow missing teeth and prevent cleft palate, one of the most common birth defects.

Gene expression is the process by which information stored in genes is converted into proteins that make up the body's structures and carry its messages. As the baby's face takes shape in the womb, the development of teeth and palate are tightly controlled in space and time by gene expression. Related abnormalities result in the development of teeth outside of the normal row, missing teeth and cleft palate, and the new insights suggest ways to combat these malformations.

The current study adds an important detail to the understanding of the interplay between biochemicals that induce teeth formation, and others that restrict it, to result in the correct pattern. Specifically, researchers discovered that turning off a single gene in mice resulted in development of extra teeth, next to and inside of their first molars. While the study was in mice, past studies have shown that the involved biochemical players are active in humans as well.

"This finding was exciting because extra teeth developed from tissue that normally does not give rise to teeth," said Rulang Jiang, Ph.D., associate professor of Biomedical Genetics in the Center for Oral Biology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and corresponding author on the Science paper. "It takes the concerted actions of hundreds of genes to build a tooth, so it was amazing to find that deleting one gene caused the activation of a complete tooth developmental program outside of the normal tooth row in those mice. Finding out how the extra teeth developed will reveal how nature makes a tooth from scratch, which will
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Contact: Greg Williams
Greg_Williams@urmc.rochester.edu
585-273-1757
University of Rochester Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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