Recovery and identification of mature enamel proteins in ancient teeth

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Abstract

Proteins in mineralized tissues provide a window to the past, and dental enamel is peculiar in being highly resistant to diagenesis and providing information on a very narrow window of time, such as the developing period; however, to date, complete proteins have not been extracted successfully from ancient teeth. In this work we tested the ability of a whole-crown micro-etch technique to obtain enamel protein samples from mature enamel of recently extracted (n = 2) and ancient (n = 2; ad 800 to 1100) third molars. Samples were analyzed using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight/time-of-flight (MALDI-TOF/TOF) mass spectrometry, and the resulting spectra were searched against the Swiss-Prot protein database using the Mascot software for protein identification. In our protocol, the separation of proteins in gel is not necessary. Successful identification of specific enamel proteins was obtained after whole-crown superficial enamel etching with 10% HCl. Most protein fragments recovered from dry teeth and mummy teeth contained amino-terminal amelogenin peptides. Only one peptide specific for the amelogenin X-isoform was identified. In conclusion, the reported techniques allowed the successful recovery of proteins specific to dental enamel from samples obtained in a very conservative manner, which may also be important in forensic and/or archeological science.

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