During tooth movement in orthodontic treatment, bone formation and resorption occur on the tension and compression sides of the alveolar bone, respectively. Although the bone formation activity increases in the periodontal ligament (PDL) on the tension side, the PDL itself is not ossified and maintains its homeostasis, indicating that there are negative regulators of bone formation in the PDL. Our previous report suggested that scleraxis (Scx) has an inhibitory effect on ossification of the PDL on the tension side through the suppression of calcified extracellular matrix formation. However, the molecular biological mechanisms of Scx-modulated inhibition of ossification in the tensioned PDL are not fully understood. The aim of the present study is to clarify the inhibitory role of Scx in osteoblast differentiation of PDL cells and its underlying mechanism. Our in vivo experiment using a mouse experimental tooth movement model showed that Scx expression was increased during early response of the PDL to tensile force. Scx knockdown upregulated expression of alkaline phosphatase, an early osteoblast differentiation marker, in the tensile force-loaded PDL cells in vitro. Transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1-Smad3 signaling in the PDL was activated by tensile force and inhibitors of TGF-β receptor and Smad3 suppressed the tensile force-induced Scx expression in PDL cells. Tensile force induced ephrin A2 (Efna2) expression in the PDL and Efna2 knockdown upregulated alkaline phosphatase expression in PDL cells under tensile force loading. Scx knockdown eliminated the tensile force-induced Efna2 expression in PDL cells. These findings suggest that the TGF-β1-Scx-Efna2 axis is a novel molecular mechanism that negatively regulates the tensile force-induced osteoblast differentiation of PDL cells.
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