Molecular signaling and pulpal nerve development

Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 2000;11(3):318-32. doi: 10.1177/10454411000110030301.


The purpose of this review is to discuss molecular factors influencing nerve growth to teeth. The establishment of a sensory pulpal innervation occurs concurrently with tooth development. Epithelial/mesenchymal interactions initiate the tooth primordium and change it into a complex organ. The initial events seem to be controlled by the epithelium, and subsequently, the mesenchyme acquires odontogenic properties. As yet, no single initiating epithelial or mesenchymal factor has been identified. Axons reach the jaws before tooth formation and form terminals near odontogenic sites. In some species, local axons have an initiating function in odontogenesis, but it is not known if this is also the case with mammals. In diphyodont mammals, the primary dentition is replaced by a permanent dentition, which involves a profound remodeling of terminal pulpal axons. The molecular signals underlying this remodeling remain unknown. Due to the senescent deterioration of the dentition, the target area of tooth nerves shrinks with age, and these nerves show marked pathological-like changes. Nerve growth factor and possibly also brain-derived neurotrophic factor seem to be important in the formation of a sensory pulpal innervation. Neurotrophin-3 and -4/5 are probably not involved. In addition, glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor, but not neurturin, seems to be involved in the control of pulpal axon growth. A variety of other growth factors may also influence developing tooth nerves. Many major extracellular matrix molecules, which can influence growing axons, are present in developing teeth. It is likely that these molecules influence the growing pulpal axons.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / physiology
  • Dental Pulp / innervation*
  • Humans
  • Mammals
  • Nerve Growth Factors / physiology
  • Odontogenesis / physiology*
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor / physiology
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Tooth Germ / innervation


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • Receptors, Nerve Growth Factor