Fibroblast growth factor 8 (FGF8) is known to be a potent stimulator of canonical Wnt/β-catenin activity, an essential factor for tooth development. In this study, we analyzed the effects of co-administration of FGF8 and a CHIR99021 (GSK3β inhibitor) on differentiation of dental mesenchymal cells into odontoblasts. Utilizing Cre-mediated EGFP reporter mice, dentin matrix protein 1 (Dmp1) expression was examined in mouse neonatal molar tooth germs. At birth, expression of Dmp1-EGFP was not found in mesenchymal cells but rather epithelial cells, after which Dmp1-positive cells gradually emerged in the mesenchymal area along with disappearance in the epithelial area. Primary cultured mesenchymal cells from neonatal tooth germ specimens showed loss of Dmp1-EGFP positive signals, whereas addition of Wnt3a or the CHIR99021 significantly regained Dmp1 positivity within approximately 2 weeks. Other odontoblast markers such as dentin sialophosphoprotein (Dspp) could not be clearly detected. Concurrent stimulation of primary cultured mesenchymal cells with the CHIR99021 and FGF8 resulted in significant upregulation of odonto/osteoblast proteins. Furthermore, increased expression levels of runt-related transcription factor 2 (Runx2), osterix, and osteocalcin were also observed. The present findings indicate that coordinated action of canonical Wnt/β-catenin and FGF8 signals is essential for odontoblast differentiation of tooth germs in mice.
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