Hertwig's epithelial root sheath (HERS) cells are a unique population of epithelial cells in the periodontal ligament compartment. To date, their functional role has not been fully elucidated. Our hypothesis was that HERS cells may be involved in regulating differentiation of periodontal ligament stem cells (PDLSCs) and forming cementum in vivo. In this study, we found that HERS cells may be capable of promoting PDLSC differentiation and undergoing epithelial-mesenchymal transition in vitro. Immunohisto-chemical staining, Western blot analysis, a transwell co-culture system, and in vivo transplantation were used to characterize the interplay between HERS cells and PDLSCs, as well as the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of HERS cells. TGFβ1 was capable of inducing the epithelial-mesenchymal transition of HERS cells through activating the PI3K/AKT pathway. Furthermore, HERS cells were able to form cementum-like tissue when transplanted into immunocompromised mice. Abbreviations: bone marrow mesenchymal stem cell, BMMSC; bone sialoprotein, BSP; hydroxyapatite/tricalcium phosphate, HA/TCP; Hertwig's epithelial root sheath, HERS; osteocalcin, OCN; periodontal ligament, PDL; periodontal ligament stem cell, PDLSC; phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase, PI3K.
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