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Scientists Find Gene for Tooth Enamel

Discovery might someday lead to new dental techniques,,

TUESDAY, Feb. 24 (HealthDay News) -- A gene that plays a role in immune function and the development of skin and the nervous system also controls the production of tooth enamel, Oregon State University researchers have found.

Their discovery about the gene Ctip2 (a transcription factor) could lead to new methods of repairing damaged enamel and preventing cavities, restoring teeth or even producing replacement teeth.

"It's not unusual for a gene to have multiple functions, but before this, we didn't know what regulated the production of tooth enamel," Chrissa Kioussi, an assistant professor in the college of pharmacy at Oregon State, said in a university news release. "This is the first transcription factor ever found to control the formation and maturation of ameloblasts, which are the cells that secrete enamel."

Kioussi and her colleagues studied baby mice in which the Ctip2 gene had been "knocked out" and its protein was missing. The mice had rudimentary teeth ready to erupt, but the teeth lacked the proper enamel coating and would never have been functional.

The findings appear in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Using this new information about Ctip2, it might be possible to use tooth stem cells to stimulate the growth of new teeth, Kioussi said. She noted that some researchers have successfully grown the inner portions of teeth in laboratory animal experiments, but the teeth had no hard coatings because the scientists didn't know which gene controlled enamel growth.

"A lot of work would still be needed to bring this to human applications, but it should work," Kioussi said. "It could be really cool -- a whole new approach to dental health."

Many people have problems with eroded tooth enamel, and most cavities start as a hole in tooth enamel that allows decay to begin.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about oral health.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Oregon State University, news release, Feb. 23, 2009

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