The load-bearing surface of the mandibular condyle presents a unique arrangement of tissues consisting of an avascular layer composed largely of collagen bundles. Fibroblasts are interspersed amongst these bundles and are generally agreed to produce the collagen. The mechanisms controlling development of these tissues have not been determined. This study was conducted to explore the role of epidermal growth factor (EGF), which appears to be important in the development of many oral tissue types as well as in the growth and differentiation of the mandibular condyle. Superficial cells of the fibrous zone of the condyle were isolated from fetal rabbit condyles and [3H]thymidine incorporation into DNA measured. The application of EGF produced a significant increase in radiolabel incorporation after 2 days compared to 4 days in the controls, suggesting that EGF induced cells to enter S-phase more rapidly. Fetal condyles were also cultured on gelfoam surgical sponges for up to 21 days. Autoradiography of cultured condyles showed that cells of all three zones may potentially replicate, as indicated by incorporation of [3H]thymidine. All three regions displayed greater increases in cell numbers in samples exposed to EGF than in control samples. The measurement of zone thickness in condyles cultured on gelfoam sponges with or without EGF showed that this peptide was able to re-establish thickness, bringing it in line with the relation observed when the condyles were isolated initially, particularly of the intermediate zone over a period of 21 days. As very little autoradiographic labelling occurred at this time- point in any of the zones, the increase in thickness must primarily be due to matrix production. It is concluded that EGF is one factor potentially regulating both replication and differentiation in mandibular condyle and its associated cells. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd.
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