The development of ectoderm-derived appendages results in a large variety of highly specialized organs such as hair follicles, mammary glands, salivary glands, and teeth. Despite varying in number, shape, and function, all these ectodermal organs develop through continuous and reciprocal epithelial-mesenchymal interactions, sharing common morphological and molecular features especially during their embryonic development. Diseases such as ectodermal dysplasias can affect simultaneously these organs, suggesting that they may arise from common multipotent precursors residing in the embryonic ectoderm. During embryogenesis, these putative ectodermal stem cells may adopt different fates and consequently be able to generate a variety of tissue-specific stem cells, which are the sources for the various cell lineages that form the diverse organs. The specification of those common epithelial precursors, as well as their further lineage commitment to tissue-specific stem cells, might be controlled by specific signals. It has been well documented that Notch, Wnt, bone morphogenetic protein, and fibroblast growth factor signaling pathways regulate cell fate decisions during the various stages of ectodermal organ development. However, the in vivo spatial and temporal dynamics of these signaling pathways are not yet well understood. Improving the current knowledge on the mechanisms involved in stem cell fate determination during organogenesis and homeostasis of ectodermal organs is crucial to develop effective stem cell-based therapies in order to regenerate or replace pathological and damaged tissues.
Keywords: BMP; Notch; Wnt; ectodermal organs; hair follicle; mammary gland; stem cells; tooth.