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Keywords:

  • tooth;
  • odontogenic band;
  • dental lamina;
  • successional lamina;
  • polyphyodonty;
  • monophyodonty;
  • reptile;
  • squamate;
  • snake;
  • lizard

Abstract

Dental patterns in vertebrates range from absence of teeth to multiple sets of teeth that are replaced throughout life. Despite this great variation, most of our understanding of tooth development is derived from studies on just a few model organisms. Here we introduce the reptile as an excellent model in which to study the molecular basis for early dental specification and, most importantly, for tooth replacement. We review recent snake studies that highlight the conserved role of Shh in marking the position of the odontogenic band. The distinctive molecular patterning of the dental lamina in the labial-lingual and oral-aboral axes is reviewed. We explain how these early signals help to specify the tooth-forming and non-tooth forming sides of the dental lamina as well as the presumptive successional lamina. Next, the simple architecture of the reptilian enamel organ is contrasted with the more complex, mammalian tooth bud and we discuss whether or not there is an enamel knot in reptilian teeth. The role of the successional lamina during tooth replacement in squamate reptiles is reviewed and we speculate on the possible formation of a vestigial, post-permanent dentition in mammals. In support of these ideas, we present data on agamid teeth in which development of a third generation is arrested. We suggest that in diphyodont mammals, similar mechanisms may be involved in reducing tooth replacement capacity. Finally, we review the location of label-retaining cells and suggest ways in which these putative dental epithelial stem cells contribute to continuous tooth replacement. genesis 49:247–260, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.