The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 39: 169 - 179 (1995)

Vol 39, Issue 1

Special Issue: Odontogenesis

The nature and functional significance of dentin extracellular matrix proteins

Published: 1 February 1995

W T Butler and H Ritchie

Department of Basic Sciences, University of Texas-Houston Health Sciences Center 77030, USA.


Odontoblasts are responsible for formation of predentin, which is transformed to dentin when apatite crystals are formed and the fibrillar matrix becomes mineralized. Odontoblasts are specialized cells that synthesize and secrete a unique set of non-collagenous proteins (NCPs), as well as the collagenous matrix largely comprised of type I collagen. The NCPs consist of dentin specific and mineralized tissue specific proteins, as well as other proteins that are found in a variety of tissues. Three dentin specific proteins have been recognized to date: dentin phosphoprotein (DPP), also called phosphophoryn, AG1 (dentin matrix protein 1, Dmp1) and dentin sialoprotein (DSP). DPP appears to be made by odontoblasts and appears at the mineralization front within a short time. It may be secreted via odontoblastic processes. DPP binds to collagen and potentially initiates formation of apatite crystals. A second DPP function appears to be to bind to the 100 face of growing apatite crystals and to inhibit or slow their growth; thus, DPP may play a dual role by initiating mineralization and then affecting the crystal growth and perhaps the habit of the crystals. Although no function has been ascribed to AG1 or DSP, they should prove to be important markers for the odontoblast phenotype. A recent unique finding is that two separate genes appear to code for more than one DSP mRNA; other transcripts may result from differential splicing. Examples of mineralized tissue specific proteins expressed by osteoblasts as well as odontoblasts are bone sialoprotein (BSP) and osteocalcin. Some NCPs expressed by osteoblasts, odontoblasts and several other tissues include osteopontin (OPN) and the chondroitin sulfate containing proteoglycans, decorin and biglycan. We propose that characterization of odontoblasts in tissues and cultures should rely upon utilization of sets of markers for the above NCPs and their mRNAs. Similar approaches are commonly used in investigations on osteoblasts. Finally, dentin (like bone) contains other molecules such as growth factors, and serum derived proteins, found within the matrix; no functional significance has yet been placed upon this finding. Future experiments should focus upon the elucidation of the three dimensional structures of the collagenous fibrillar network and of the NCPs to determine the relationships to mineralization. The role played by odontoblasts in controlling extracellular events, such as by selective secretory routes, will require careful exploration.

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