Expression patterns of the homeobox gene, Hox-8, in the mouse embryo suggest a role in specifying tooth initiation and shape.

Alasdair MacKenzie, Mark Ferguson, Paul T. Sharpe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

279 Citations (Scopus)


We have studied the expression patterns of the newly isolated homeobox gene, Hox-8 by in situ hybridisation to sections of the developing heads of mouse embryos between E9 and E17.5, and compared them to Hox-7 expression patterns in adjacent sections. This paper concentrates on the interesting expression patterns of Hox-8 during initiation and development of the molar and incisor teeth. Hox-8 expression domains are present in the neural crest-derived mesenchyme beneath sites of future tooth formation, in a proximo-distal gradient. Tooth development is initiated in the oral epithelium which subsequently thickens in discrete sites and invaginates to form the dental lamina. Hox-8 expression in mouse oral epithelium is first evident at the sites of the dental placodes, suggesting a role in the specification of tooth position. Subsequently, in molar teeth, this patch of Hox-8 expressing epithelium becomes incorporated within the buccal aspect of the invaginating dental lamina to form part of the external enamel epithelium of the cap stage tooth germ. This locus of Hox-8 expression becomes continuous with new sites of Hox-8 expression in the enamel navel, septum, knot and internal enamel epithelium. The transitory enamel knot, septum and navel were postulated, long ago, to be involved in specifying tooth shape, causing the inflection of the first buccal cusp, but this theory has been largely ignored. Interestingly, in the conical incisor teeth, the enamel navel, septum and knot are absent, and Hox-8 has a symmetrical expression pattern. Our demonstration of the precise expression patterns of Hox-8 in the early dental placodes and their subsequent association with the enamel knot, septum and navel provide the first molecular clues to the basis of patterning in the dentition and the association of tooth position with tooth shape: an association all the more intriguing in view of the evolutionary robustness of the patterning mechanism, and the known role of homeobox genes in Drosophila pattern formation. At the bell stage of tooth development, Hox-8 expression switches tissue layers, being absent from the differentiating epithelial ameloblasts and turned on in the differentiating mesenchymal odontoblasts. Hox-7 is expressed in the mesenchyme of the dental papilla and follicle at all stages. This reciprocity of expression suggests an interactive role between Hox-7, Hox-8 and other genes in regulating epithelial mesenchymal interactions during dental differentiation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-420
Number of pages18
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1992


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