Unicuspid and Bicuspid Tooth Crown Formation in Squamates

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The molecular and developmental factors that regulate tooth morphogenesis in nonmammalian species, such as snakes and lizards, have received relatively little attention compared to mammals. Here we describe the development of unicuspid and bicuspid teeth in squamate species. The simple, cone-shaped tooth crown of the bearded dragon and ball python is established at cap stage and fixed in shape by the differentiation of cells and the secretion of dental matrices. Enamel production, as demonstrated by amelogenin expression, occurs relatively earlier in squamate teeth than in mouse molars. We suggest that the early differentiation in squamate unicuspid teeth at cap stage correlates with a more rudimentary tooth crown shape. The leopard gecko can form a bicuspid tooth crown despite the early onset of differentiation. Cusp formation in the gecko does not occur by the folding of the inner enamel epithelium, as in the mouse molar, but by the differential secretion of enamel. Ameloblasts forming the enamel epithelial bulge, a central swelling of cells in the inner enamel epithelium, secrete amelogenin at cap stage, but cease to do so by bell stage. Meanwhile, other ameloblasts in the inner enamel epithelium continue to secrete enamel, forming cusp tips on either side of the bulge. Bulge cells specifically express the gene Bmp2, which we suggest serves as a pro-differentiation signal for cells of the gecko enamel organ. In this regard, the enamel epithelial bulge of the gecko may be more functionally analogous to the secondary enamel knot of mammals than the primary enamel knot.

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