Magazine article Science News

Scientists Home in on Tooth Enamel Gene

Magazine article Science News

Scientists Home in on Tooth Enamel Gene

Article excerpt

Scientists home in on tooth enamel gene

Applying a new molecular "probe" to human chromosomes, researchers have found the approximate location of the gene that tells cells to make the major protein in tooth enamel. The protein, called amelogenin, is one of two proteins that provide the biological scaffolding around which mineralization occurs during tooth development. Many scientists believe it plays an active, regulatory role in tooth development as well.

The researchers say a determination of the gene's exact location should boost their understanding of a rare, hereditary weakness of tooth enamel called amelogenesis imperfecta. And because tooth enamel mineralization resembles the process of bone formation, isolation of the amelogenin gene may aid in detecting genes involved in inherited bone defects.

Enamel, the outermost coating of teeth, forms the hardest tissue in the vertebrate body. Its production begins with a matrix of amelogenin, produced by cells called ameloblasts, along with the less abudant protein enamelin. During the process of enamel maturation, the proteins are gradually replaced by crystals of a mineral compound called hydroxyapatite.

Mature teeth are composed of about 99 percent mineral crystals and less than 1 percent protein. But while present, amelogenin plays key roles in tooth development, perhaps in part by helping to exclude water from tooth tissue. Water content affects the size and arrangement of hydroxyapatite crystals. …

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