Neurotrophin 4 (NT-4) and its receptors regulate the differentiation of ameloblasts in tooth development. Gangliosides, sialic acids that contain glycosphingolipids (GSLs), are involved in a variety of membrane-associated cell physiological functions such as ligand-receptor signal transmission. However, the expression patterns and functions of GSLs during tooth development remain unclear. In this study, we identified strong expressions of GM3 and LacCer in dental epithelium, which give rise to differentiation into enamel-secreting ameloblasts. Exogenous GM3 and LacCer in dental epithelial cells induced the expression of ameloblastin (Ambn), while it was also interesting that GM3 synergistically exerted enhancement of NT-4-mediated Ambn expression. In addition, consistently exogenous GM3 and LacCer in dental epithelial cells induced distinct activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 (ERK1/2), an event upstream of the expression of Ambn. Furthermore, depletion of GSLs from dental epithelial cells by D-threo-1-phenyl-2-decanoylamino-3- morpholino-1-propanol (D-PDMP) inhibited Ambn expression as well as phosphorylation of ERK1/2. In contrast, exogenous addition of GM3 or LacCer rescued the phosphorylation of ERK1/2 repressed by pre-treatment with D-PDMP. Taken together, these results suggest that GM3 and LacCer are essential for NT-4-mediated Ambn expression, and contribute to dental epithelial cell differentiation into ameloblasts.
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