This study demonstrated the simultaneous expression of cathepsin K (CK) mRNA by in situ hybridization and CK protein by immunoelectron microscopy in odontoclasts in mouse maxillae after experimental tooth movement. On the pressure side (the area under pressure during tooth movement), CK mRNA was detected in odontoclasts in resorption lacunae in the tooth root, in osteoclasts in bone resorption lacunae, and in fibroblasts in the periodontal ligament. Using electron microscopy, CK protein was detected at the apex of odontoclasts, intracellularly in vesicles and granules, and extracellularly in irregularly shaped vacuoles (extracellular spaces), on the plasma membrane of the ruffled border, and on and between typical striated type I collagen fibrils in the lacunae. These vesicles and granules appeared to fuse with irregular vacuoles containing CK-positive fragmented fibril-like structures close to the ruffled border. In the basolateral portion of odontoclasts, small amounts of CK-positive rough endoplasmic reticulum (ER) were found. CK-positive intracellular vacuoles (not extracellular spaces) also appeared to fuse with the vesicles and granules. However, these fused organelles rarely contained fragmented fibril-like structures. They are probably endolysosomes. The distribution of CK in odontoclasts was similar to that previously seen in osteoclasts. Furthermore, CK-positive fibril-like structures were found in the vacuoles of fibroblasts. These results indicated that during tooth movement CK is synthesized in odontoclasts on the pressure side and secreted into the tooth resorption lacunae. Therefore, CK may take part in the degradation of the dentin matrix (type I collagen fibrils and non-collagenous protein) of the tooth root, and in the subsequent intracellular degradation of endocytosed fragmented fibril-like structures in endolysosomes.
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