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Mouse Teeth Providing New Insights Into Tissue Regeneration

April 28, 2017

By Nicholas Weiler

Researchers hope to one day use stem cells to heal burns, patch damaged heart tissue, even grow kidneys and other transplantable organs from scratch. This dream edges closer to reality every year, but one of the enduring puzzles for stem cell researchers is how these remarkable cells know when it’s time for them to expand in numbers and transform into mature, adult cells in order to renew injured or aging tissue.

The answer to this crucial decision-making process may lie in a most remarkable organ: the front tooth of the mouse.

“As we grow older our teeth start to wear out, and in nature, once you don’t have your teeth anymore, you die. As a result, mice and many other animals – from elephants to some primates – can grow their teeth continuously,” said UC San Francisco’s Ophir Klein, MD, PhD, a professor of orofacial sciences in UCSF’s School of Dentistry and of pediatrics in the School of Medicine. “Our lab’s objective is to learn the rules that let mouse incisors grow continuously to help us one day grow teeth in the lab, but also to help us identify general principles that could enable us to understand the processes of tissue renewal much more broadly."

In a new study, published online April 27, 2017, in Cell Stem Cell, Jimmy Hu, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Klein laboratory, has discovered that signals from the surrounding tissue are responsible for triggering these dental stem cells to leave their normal state of dormancy, hop on the conveyor belt of the growing tooth, and begin the process of transforming into mature tooth tissue.

>> Read the complete article on UCSF.edu.