Reciprocal interactions between epithelial and mesenchymal tissues play a fundamental role in the morphogenesis of teeth and regulate all aspects of tooth development. Extensive studies on mouse tooth development over the past 25 years have uncovered the molecular details of the signaling networks mediating these interactions (reviewed by Jussila & Thesleff, 2012; Lan, Jia, & Jiang, 2014). Five conserved signaling pathways, namely, the Wnt, BMP, FGF, Shh, and Eda, are involved in the mediation of the successive reciprocal epithelial-mesenchymal cross talk which follows the general principle of morphogenetic interactions (Davidson, 1993). The pathways regulate the expression of transcription factors which confer the identity of dental epithelium and mesenchyme. The signals and transcription factors are integrated in complex signaling networks whose fine-tuning allows the generation of the variation in tooth morphologies. In this review, we describe the principles and molecular mechanisms of the epithelial-mesenchymal interactions regulating successive stages of tooth formation: (i) the initiation of tooth development, with special reference to the shift of tooth-forming potential from epithelium to mesenchyme; (ii) the morphogenesis of the tooth crown, focusing on the roles of epithelial signaling centers; (iii) the differentiation of odontoblasts and ameloblasts, which produce dentin and enamel, respectively; and (iv) the maintenance of dental stem cells, which support the continuous growth of teeth.
Keywords: Amelogenesis; Dental stem cells; Dentinogenesis; Epithelial–mesenchymal interactions; Gene regulatory networks; Odontogenesis; Signaling networks.
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