Dental enamel, the hardest mammalian tissue, is produced by ameloblasts. Ameloblasts show many similarities to other transporting epithelia although their secretory product, the enamel matrix, is quite different. Ameloblasts direct the formation of hydroxyapatite crystals, which liberate large quantities of protons that then need to be buffered to allow mineralization to proceed. Buffering requires a tight pH regulation and secretion of bicarbonate by ameloblasts. Many investigations have used immunohistochemical and knockout studies to determine the effects of these genes on enamel formation, but up till recently very little functional data were available for mineral ion transport. To address this, we developed a novel 2D in vitro model using HAT-7 ameloblast cells. HAT-7 cells can be polarized and develop functional tight junctions. Furthermore, they are able to accumulate bicarbonate ions from the basolateral to the apical fluid spaces. We propose that in the future, the HAT-7 2D system along with similar cellular models will be useful to functionally model ion transport processes during amelogenesis. Additionally, we also suggest that similar approaches will allow a better understanding of the regulation of the cycling process in maturation-stage ameloblasts, and the pH sensory mechanisms, which are required to develop sound, healthy enamel.
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