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Researchers have now discovered nervous system cells transforming back into stem cells in a very surprising place: inside teeth. This unexpected source of stem cells potentially offers scientists a new starting point from which to grow human tissues for therapeutic or research purposes without using embryos.
“More than just applications within dentistry, this finding can have very broad implications,” says developmental biologist Igor Adameyko of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who led the new work. “These stem cells could be used for regenerating cartilage and bone as well.”
Researchers were studying glial cells, which support and surround neurons that wind through the mouth and gums and help transmit signals of pain from the teeth to the brain. When they added fluorescent labels to a set of glial cells in mice, they saw that over time, some of them migrated away from neurons in the gums toward the inside of teeth, where they transformed into mesenchymal stem cells. Eventually, the same cells matured into tooth cells, the team reported this week in Nature