Reiterative signaling and patterning during mammalian tooth morphogenesis

Mech Dev. 2000 Mar 15;92(1):19-29. doi: 10.1016/s0925-4773(99)00322-6.


Mammalian dentition consists of teeth that develop as discrete organs. From anterior to posterior, the dentition is divided into regions of incisor, canine, premolar and molar tooth types. Particularly teeth in the molar region are very diverse in shape. The development of individual teeth involves epithelial-mesenchymal interactions that are mediated by signals shared with other organs. Parts of the molecular details of signaling networks have been established, particularly in the signal families BMP, FGF, Hh and Wnt, mostly by the analysis of gene expression and signaling responses in knockout mice with arrested tooth development. Recent evidence suggests that largely the same signaling cascade is used reiteratively throughout tooth development. The successional determination of tooth region, tooth type, tooth crown base and individual cusps involves signals that regulate tissue growth and differentiation. Tooth type appears to be determined by epithelial signals and to involve differential activation of homeobox genes in the mesenchyme. This differential signaling could have allowed the evolutionary divergence of tooth shapes among the four tooth types. The advancing tooth morphogenesis is punctuated by transient signaling centers in the epithelium corresponding to the initiation of tooth buds, tooth crowns and individual cusps. The latter two signaling centers, the primary enamel knot and the secondary enamel knot, have been well characterized and are thought to direct the differential growth and subsequent folding of the dental epithelium. Several members of the FGF signal family have been implicated in the control of cell proliferation around the non-dividing enamel knots. Spatiotemporal induction of the secondary enamel knots determines the cusp patterns of individual teeth and is likely to involve repeated activation and inhibition of signaling as suggested for patterning of other epithelial organs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins / physiology
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Lineage
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / physiology
  • Mammals / embryology*
  • Mesoderm / physiology
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Morphogenesis
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Tooth / embryology*
  • Transcription Factors / physiology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / physiology


  • Bone Morphogenetic Proteins
  • Transcription Factors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors