Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Karolinska Institute, Medical Nobel Institute, Stockhom, Sweden.
Neurotrophins (NTFs) are a family of structurally related proteins with specific effects on the developing nervous system and a wide range of non-neuronal differentiating cells. To date, four NTFs have been characterized: nerve growth factor (NGF), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), and neurotrophin-4 (NT-4). To perform their biological effects, the NTFs must bind to appropriate receptors on the surface of responsive cells. High- and low-affinity receptors for NTFs have been identified. The high-affinity receptors are members of the trk protein tyrosine kinase receptor family. The low-affinity neurotrophin receptor gp75NTFR is a common receptor for all NTFs. Here we summarize some of our previous findings on the expression patterns of NGF, gp75NTFR, TrkB, and TrkC in the developing molar tooth of the rat. Both NGF and gp75NTFR are localized in dental epithelium and mesenchyme but often their expression patterns differ. Concomitant expression of NGF and gp75NTFR in mesenchyme is correlated with odontoblast differentiation. The trkB and trkC receptors show distinct cell-specific expression patterns in developing tooth, suggesting that other NTFs, apart from NGF, may be involved in odontogenesis. These data demonstrate that NTFs participate in the cascade of molecular events that direct tooth development, and support the notion that NTFs may have multiple and distinct roles in dental tissues.