Dental Tribune International

Research on pufferfish could lead to addressing tooth loss in humans

SHEFFIELD, UK: According to new research by an international team of scientists, human teeth evolved from the same genes that form the characteristic beaked teeth of the pufferfish. Published in the PNSA journal, the study has revealed this fish’s very similar dental regeneration process to other vertebrates, and it is hoped that the findings could be used to address tooth loss in humans.

The study found that all vertebrates have some form of dental regeneration potential; however, the pufferfish uses the same stem cells for tooth regeneration as humans do, continually replacing some teeth with elongated bands that form its distinctive beak. Because of the pufferfish’s bizarre beak evolving through the modification of dental replacement, it is one of the most extraordinary forms of evolutionary novelty.

“Our study questioned how pufferfish make a beak and now we’ve discovered the stem cells responsible and the genes that govern this process of continuous regeneration. These are also involved in general vertebrate tooth regeneration, including in humans,” said Dr Gareth Fraser, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences who led the study. The researchers believe that, because vertebrates regenerate their teeth in the same way, studies in other obscure fish could provide further insight into dental regeneration in humans.

Alex Thiery, a doctoral student at the University of Sheffield who contributed to the research, said: “We are interested in the developmental origin of the pufferfish beak as it presents a special opportunity to understand how evolutionary novelty can arise in vertebrates more generally.”

The study seeks to understand how the novelty of form manifests in the pufferfish and the ways in which the novel dental phenotype develops over ontogenetic time.

The study, titled “Spatially restricted dental regeneration drives pufferfish beak development”, was published online on 15 May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. It was conducted in collaboration with the Natural History Museum in London in the UK and the University of Tokyo in Japan.

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