Interactions between ingrowing nerve fibers and their target tissues form the basis for functional connectivity with the central nervous system. Studies of the developing dental pulp innervation by nerve fibers from the trigeminal ganglion is an excellent example of nerve-target tissue interactions and will allow specific questions regarding development of the dental pulp nerve system to be addressed. Dental pulp cells (DPC) produce an array of neurotrophic factors during development, suggesting that these proteins might be involved in supporting trigeminal nerve fibers that innervate the dental pulp. We have established an in vitro culture system to study the interactions between the dental pulp cells and trigeminal neurons. We show that dental pulp cells produce several neurotrophic factors in culture. When DPC are cocultured with trigeminal neurons, they promote survival and a specific and elaborate neurite outgrowth pattern from trigeminal neurons, whereas skin fibroblasts do not provide a similar support. In addition, we show that dental pulp tissue becomes innervated when transplanted ectopically into the anterior chamber of the eye in rats, and upregulates the catecholaminergic nerve fiber density of the irises. Interestingly, grafting the dental pulp tissue into hemisected spinal cord increases the number of surviving motoneurons, indicating a functional bioactivity of the dental pulp-derived neurotrophic factors in vivo by rescuing motoneurons. Based on these findings, we propose that dental pulp-derived neurotrophic factors play an important role in orchestrating the dental pulp innervation.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.