Morphogenesis of embryonic organs is regulated by epithelial-mesenchymal interactions associating with changes in the extracellular matrix (ECM). The response of the cells to the changes in the ECM must involve integral cell surface molecules that recognize their matrix ligand and initiate transmission of signal intracellularly. We have studied the expression of the cell surface proteoglycan, syndecan, which is a matrix receptor for epithelial cells (Saunders, S., M. Jalkanen, S. O'Farrell, and M. Bernfield. J. Cell Biol. In press.), and the matrix glycoprotein, tenascin, which has been proposed to be involved in epithelial-mesenchymal interactions (Chiquet-Ehrismann, R., E. J. Mackie, C. A. Pearson, and T. Sakakura. 1986. Cell. 47:131-139) in experimental tissue recombinations of dental epithelium and mesenchyme. Our earlier studies have shown that in mouse embryos both syndecan and tenascin are intensely expressed in the condensing dental mesenchyme surrounding the epithelial bud (Thesleff, I., M. Jalkanen, S. Vainio, and M. Bernfield. 1988. Dev. Biol. 129:565-572; Thesleff, I., E. Mackie, S. Vainio, and R. Chiquet-Ehrismann. 1987. Development. 101:289-296). Analysis of rat-mouse tissue recombinants by a monoclonal antibody against the murine syndecan showed that the presumptive dental epithelium induces the expression of syndecan in the underlying mesenchyme. The expression of tenascin was induced in the dental mesenchyme in the same area as syndecan. The syndecan and tenascin positive areas increased with time of epithelial-mesenchymal contact. Other ECM molecules, laminin, type III collagen, and fibronectin, did not show a staining pattern similar to that of syndecan and tenascin. Oral epithelium from older embryos had lost its ability to induce syndecan expression but the presumptive dental epithelium induced syndecan expression even in oral mesenchyme of older embryos. Our results indicate that the expression of syndecan and tenascin in the tooth mesenchyme is regulated by epithelial-mesenchymal interactions. Because of their early appearance, syndecan and tenascin may be used to study the molecular regulation of this interaction. The similar distribution patterns of syndecan and tenascin in vivo and in vitro and their early appearance as a result of epithelial-mesenchymal interaction suggest that these molecules may be involved in the condensation and differentiation of dental mesenchymal cells.

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