Dentin sialoprotein (DSP) is essential for dentinogenesis and processed into fragments in the odontoblast-like cells and the tooth compartments. Matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP9) is expressed in teeth from early embryonic to adult stage. Although MMP9 has been reported to be involved in some physiological and pathological conditions through processing substrates, its role in tooth development and whether DSP is a substrate of MMP9 remain unknown. In this study, the function of MMP9 in the tooth development was examined by observation of Mmp9 knockout (Mmp9-/-) mouse phenotype, and whether DSP is a substrate of MMP9 was explored by in vitro and in vivo experiments. The results showed that Mmp9-/- teeth displayed a phenotype similar to dentinogenesis imperfecta, including decreased dentin mineral density, abnormal dentin architecture, widened predentin and irregular predentin-dentin boundary. The distribution of MMP9 and DSP overlapped in the odontoblasts, the predentin, and the mineralized dentin, and MMP9 was able to specifically bind to DSP. MMP9 highly efficiently cleaved DSP into distinct fragments in vitro, and the deletion of Mmp9 caused improper processing of DSP in natural teeth. Therefore, our findings demonstrate that MMP9 is important for tooth development and DSP is a novel target of MMP9 during dentinogenesis.
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