Apoptosis plays important roles in various stages of organogenesis. In this study, we hypothesized that apoptosis would play an important role in tooth morphogenesis. We examined the role of apoptosis in early tooth development by using a caspase inhibitor, z-VAD-fmk, concomitant with in vitro organ culture and tooth germ transplantation into the kidney capsule. Inhibition of apoptosis at the early cap stage did not disrupt the cell proliferation level when compared with controls. However, the macroscopic morphology of mice molar teeth exhibited dramatic alterations after the inhibition of apoptosis. Crown height was reduced, and mesiodistal diameter was increased in a concentration-dependent manner with z-VAD-fmk treatment. Overall, apoptosis in the enamel knot would be necessary for the proper formation of molar teeth, including appropriate shape and size.
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