Modulation of gingival epithelial phenotypes by interactions with regionally defined populations of fibroblasts

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Background and Objective

The unusual structure and functions of junctional epithelium, together with its pattern of migration in periodontal disease, raise interesting questions about the factors associated with the maintenance of its unique phenotype. To explore the effects of regionally differing fibroblast populations on the growth and patterns of differentiation of oral epithelia, this study used an organotypical in vitro model in an attempt to detect interactions occurring between populations of human oral fibroblasts and keratinocytes.

Material and Methods

Keratinocytes and fibroblasts, isolated from the gingival region and periodontal ligament, were characterized by their patterns of growth and by their expression of known differentiation markers. Changes in cell behaviour and phenotypic marker expression were examined during in vitro passage as an indication of the maintenance of in vivo phenotypic traits. Using early passage cells, organotypical cultures were generated and patterns of epithelial growth and expression of phenotypic markers were examined.


Phenotypically different populations of junctional and oral-gingival keratinocytes, and of oral-gingival and periodontal ligament fibroblasts, were successfully isolated, cultured and characterized. In the organotypic culture system, oral-gingival fibroblasts were found to have a markedly greater ability than periodontal ligament fibroblasts to support and maintain the growth of either type of epithelium. Shifts of epithelial phenotype were induced by different fibroblasts.


Periodontal and gingival fibroblast subpopulations have differential effects on the growth and patterns of differentiation of oral and junctional epithelia. By modulating the epithelial phenotype, regionally differing fibroblasts can influence the stability and behaviour of the gingival attachment apparatus in health and disease.

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