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Abstract

Tooth development is a complex process including successive stages of initiation, morphogenesis, and histogenesis. The role of the Dlx family of homeobox genes during the early stages of tooth development has been widely analyzed, while little data has been reported on their role in dental histogenesis. The expression pattern of Dlx2 has been described in the mouse incisor; an inverse linear relationship exists between the level of Dlx2 expression and enamel thickness, suggesting a role for Dlx2 in regulation of ameloblast differentiation and activity. In vitro data have revealed that DLX homeoproteins are able to regulate the expression of matrix proteins such as osteocalcin. The aim of the present study was to analyze the expression and function of Dlx genes during amelogenesis. Analysis of Dlx2/LacZ transgenic reporter mice, Dlx2 and Dlx1/Dlx2 null mutant mice, identified spatial variations in Dlx2 expression within molar tooth germs and suggests a role for Dlx2 in the organization of preameloblastic cells as a palisade in the labial region of molars. Later, during the secretory and maturation stages of amelogenesis, the expression pattern in molars was found to be similar to that described in incisors. The expression patterns of the other Dlx genes were examined in incisors and compared to Dlx2. Within the ameloblasts Dlx3 and Dlx6 are expressed constantly throughout presecretory, secretory, and maturation stages; during the secretory phase when Dlx2 is transitorily switched off, Dlx1 expression is upregulated. These data suggest a role for DLX homeoproteins in the morphological control of enamel. Sequence analysis of the amelogenin gene promoter revealed five potential responsive elements for DLX proteins that are shown to be functional for DLX2. Regulation of amelogenin in ameloblasts may be one method by which DLX homeoproteins may control enamel formation. To conclude, this study establishes supplementary functions of Dlx family members during tooth development: the participation in establishment of dental epithelial functional organization and the control of enamel morphogenesis via regulation of amelogenin expression. J. Cell. Physiol. 216: 688–697, 2008, © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.