A large pool of actively cycling progenitors orchestrates self-renewal and injury repair of an ectodermal appendage

Nat Cell Biol. 2019 Sep;21(9):1102-1112. doi: 10.1038/s41556-019-0378-2. Epub 2019 Sep 2.


The classical model of tissue renewal posits that small numbers of quiescent stem cells (SCs) give rise to proliferating transit-amplifying cells before terminal differentiation. However, many organs house pools of SCs with proliferative and differentiation potentials that diverge from this template. Resolving SC identity and organization is therefore central to understanding tissue renewal. Here, using a combination of single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq), mouse genetics and tissue injury approaches, we uncover cellular hierarchies and mechanisms that underlie the maintenance and repair of the continuously growing mouse incisor. Our results reveal that, during homeostasis, a group of actively cycling epithelial progenitors generates enamel-producing ameloblasts and adjacent layers of non-ameloblast cells. After injury, tissue repair was achieved through transient increases in progenitor-cell proliferation and through direct conversion of Notch1-expressing cells to ameloblasts. We elucidate epithelial SC identity, position and function, providing a mechanistic basis for the homeostasis and repair of a fast-turnover ectodermal appendage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Ameloblasts / cytology*
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Cell Division / physiology
  • Cell Proliferation / physiology*
  • Ectoderm / cytology*
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Incisor / cytology*
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Stem Cells / cytology