Dentin sialophosphoprotein (DSPP) is a dentin extracellular matrix protein that is processed into dentin sialoprotein (DSP), dentin glycoprotein (DGP) and dentin phosphoprotein (DPP). DSP is mainly expressed in odontoblasts. We hypothesized that DSP interacts with cell surface receptors and subsequently activates intracellular signaling. Using DSP as bait for screening a protein library, we demonstrate that DSP acts as a ligand and binds to integrin β6. The 36 amino acid residues of DSP are sufficient to bind to integrin β6. This peptide promoted cell attachment, migration, differentiation and mineralization of dental mesenchymal cells. In addition, DSP aa183-219 stimulated phosphorylation of ERK1/2 and P38 kinases. This activation was inhibited by an anti-integrin β6 antibody and siRNA. Furthermore, we demonstrate that this DSP fragment induces SMAD1/5/8 phosphorylation and nuclear translocation via ERK1/2 and P38 signaling. SMAD1/5/8 binds to SMAD binding elements (SBEs) in the DSPP gene promoter. SBE mutations result in a decrease in DSPP transcriptional activity. Endogenous DSPP expression was up-regulated by DSP aa183-219 in dental mesenchymal cells. The data in the current study demonstrate for the first time that this DSP domain acts as a ligand in a RGD-independent manner and is involved in intracellular signaling via interacting with integrin β6. The DSP domain regulates DSPP expression and odontoblast homeostasis via a positive feedback loop.
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