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Alligators may hold key to tooth regeneration!

Alligators may help scientists find a way to regrow missing teeth in people, according to new research.

Researchers led by Professor Cheng-Ming Chuong from the Keck School of Medicine - University of Southern California have for the first time uncovered unique cellular and molecular mechanisms behind tooth renewal in American alligators.

‘Humans naturally only have two sets of teethbaby teeth and adult teeth,’ said Chuong. ‘Ultimately, we want to identify stem cells that can be used as a resource to stimulate tooth renewal in adult humans who have lost teeth. But, to do that, we must first understand how they renew in other animals and why they stop in people,’ Chuong said.

Whereas most vertebrates can replace teeth throughout their lives, human teeth are naturally replaced only once, despite the lingering presence of a band of epithelial tissue called the dental lamina, which is crucial to tooth development.

Because alligators have well-organised teeth with similar form and structure as mammalian teeth and are capable of lifelong tooth renewal, the authors reasoned that they might serve as models for mammalian tooth replacement.

‘Alligator teeth are implanted in sockets of the dental bone, like human teeth,’ said Ping Wu, assistant professor of pathology at the Keck School of Medicine and first author of the study.

‘They have 80 teeth, each of which can be replaced up to 50 times over their lifetime, making them the ideal model for comparison to human teeth,’ Wu said.

Using microscopic imaging techniques, the researchers found that each alligator tooth is a complex unit of three components - a functional tooth, a replacement tooth, and the dental lamina - in different developmental stages. The tooth units are structured to enable a smooth transition from dis-lodgement of the functional, mature tooth to replacement with the new tooth. The researchers concluded that the alligator dental laminae contain stem cells from which new replacement teeth could be developed.
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