Adhesion molecules and their cell membrane receptors are known to play important regulatory roles in cell differentiation. Consequently, the following experiments were conducted to determine the role of two adhesion molecules, bone sialoprotein (BSP) and osteopontin (OPN) in tooth root formation. Developing murine molar tooth germs at sequential stages of development (developmental days 21-42) were analyzed using immunohistochemical and in situ hybridization techniques. While BSP was localized to alveolar bone and odontoblasts early in development, BSP was distinctly localized to the cemental root surface at latter periods coincident with the initiation of root formation and cementogenesis. Conversely, OPN was distributed in a nonspecific fashion throughout the PDL and the eruption pathway of the forming tooth. In situ hybridization confirmed that cells lining the root surface express BSP. The fact that BSP is specifically localized to the cemental surface suggests that this protein is involved in cementoblast differentiation and/or early mineralization of the cementum matrix. Localization of OPN to non-mineralized tissues further suggests that OPN functions as an inhibitor of mineralization during periodontal ligament formation. These findings collectively suggest that BSP and OPN are intimately involved in the sequence of cellular and molecular events accompanying cementogenesis.