Antibody for one gene shown to stimulate tooth growth

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tooth growth
Photo: Andriy Popov 123RF

A new study from Japan may offer some hope to those with missing teeth. 

A team of scientists at Kyoto University and the University of Fukui reports that an antibody for one gene—uterine sensitisation associated gene-1 or USAG-1—can stimulate tooth growth in mice suffering from tooth agenesis, a congenital condition. 

Their findings are published in Science Advances.

Although the normal adult mouth has 32 teeth, about one per cent of the population has more or fewer due to congenital conditions. Scientists have explored the genetic causes for having too many teeth as clues for regenerating teeth in adults.

According to lead author Katsu Takahashi, the fundamental molecules responsible for tooth development have already been identified.

“The morphogenesis of individual teeth depends on the interactions of several molecules including BMP, or bone morphogenetic protein, and Wnt signaling,” Takahashi said.

BMP and Wnt are involved in much more than tooth development. They modulate the growth of multiple organs and tissues well before the human body is even the size of a raisin. Consequently, drugs that directly affect their activity are commonly avoided, since side effects could affect the entire body.

Guessing that targeting the factors that antagonise BMP and Wnt specifically in tooth development could be safer, the team considered the gene USAG-1.

“We knew that suppressing USAG-1 benefits tooth growth. What we did not know was whether it would be enough,” Takahashi said.

The scientists therefore investigated the effects of several monoclonal antibodies for USAG-1. Monoclonal antibodies are commonly used to treat cancers, arthritis, and vaccine development.

USAG-1 interacts with both BMP and Wnt. As a result, several of the antibodies led to poor birth and survival rates of the mice, affirming the importance of both BMP and Wnt on whole body growth. One promising antibody, however, disrupted the interaction of USAG-1 with BMP only.

Experiments with this antibody revealed that BMP signaling is essential for determining the number of teeth in mice. Moreover, a single administration was enough to generate a whole tooth. 

The study is the first to show the benefits of monoclonal antibodies on tooth regeneration and provides a new therapeutic framework for a clinical problem that can currently only be resolved with implants and other artificial measures.

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