The teeth of the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus grow continuously. The mineral phase, a high magnesium calcite, grows into single crystals within numerous compartments bounded by an organic matrix deposited by the odontoblasts. Electron microscopic examination of glutaraldehyde‐fixed Ethylene Diamine Tetra acetic acid (EDTA) demineralized teeth shows the compartment walls to be organized from multiple layers of cell membrane which might contain cytoplasmic protein inclusions. Proteins extracted during demineralization of unfixed teeth were examined by gel electrophoresis, high performance liquid chromatography, and amino acid analysis. The tooth proteins were acidic, they contained phosphoserine, and they were rich in aspartic acid. By contrast, the proteins of similarly extracted mineralized Aristotle's lantern skeletal elements were nonphosphorylated and were rich in glutamic acid. Vertebrate tooth and bone matrix proteins show similar differences. Surprisingly, an antibody to the principle rat incisor phosphoprotein showed a significant cross‐reactivity with the urchin tooth protein, by dot‐blot and enzyme‐linked immunosorbent assay procedures. Thus, the urchin tooth proteins contain epitope regions similar to those which are phenotypic markers of vertebrate odontoblasts. Whether this is an expression of convergent or divergent evolutionary processes, it is likely that the matrix proteins play a similar role in matrix mineralization. The sea urchin tooth may thus be an excellent model for the study of odontoblast‐mediated mineral–matrix relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-46
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 1986


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