The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 39: 153 - 161 (1995)

Vol 39, Issue 1

Special Issue: Odontogenesis

Overview of morphological changes in enamel organ cells associated with major events in amelogenesis

Published: 1 February 1995

C E Smith and A Nanci

Department of Anatomy, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


The formation and mineralization of enamel is controlled by epithelial cells of the enamel organ which undergo marked, and in some cases repetitive, alterations in cellular morphology as part of the developmental process. The most dramatic changes are seen in ameloblasts which reverse their secretory polarity during differentiation to allow for extracellular release of large amounts of proteins from plasma membrane surfaces that were originally the embryonic bases of the cells. Secreted enamel proteins at first do not accumulate in a layer but, in part, percolate into the developing predentin and subjacent odontoblast layer. Appositional growth of an enamel layer begins with mineralization of the dentin, and ameloblasts develop a complicated functional apex (Tome's processes) to direct release of matrix proteins, and perhaps proteinases, at interrod and rod growth sites. Once the full thickness of enamel is produced, some ameloblasts degenerate, and the surviving cells shorten in height and spread out at the enamel surface. They reform a basal lamina to cover the immature enamel, and continue producing small amounts of enamel proteins that pass through the basal lamina into the enamel. Ameloblasts also undergo cycles of modulation where apical invaginations enriched in Ca-ATPases and other enzymes are formed and shed on a repetitive basis (ruffle-ended/smooth-ended transitions). As this happens, apatetic crystals seeded earlier expand in volume by gradual layering of new mineral at the surfaces of the preformed crystals. Ameloblasts stop modulating when the crystals almost fill existing volume formerly occupied by protein and water.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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