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This review presents a discourse on challenges in understanding and imitating the process of amelogenesis in vitro on the molecular scale. In light of the analysis of imitation of the growth of dental enamel, it also impends on the prospects and potential drawbacks of the biomimetic approach in general. As the formation of enamel proceeds with the protein matrix guiding the crystal growth, while at the same time conducting its own degradation and removal, it is argued that three aspects of amelogenesis need to be induced in parallel: a) crystal growth; b) protein assembly; c) proteolytic degradation. A particular emphasis is therefore placed on ensuring conditions for proteolysis-coupled protein-guided crystallization to occur. Discussed are structural and functional properties of the protein species involved in amelogenesis, mainly amelogenin and enamelysin, the main protein and the protease of the developing enamel matrix, respectively. A model of enamel growth based on controlled delivery of constituent ions or crystalline or amorphous building blocks by means of amelogenin is proposed. The importance of high viscosity of the enamel matrix and a more intricate role that water may play in such a gelatinous medium are also touched upon. The tendency of amelogenin to self-assemble into fibrous and rod-shaped morphologies is considered as potentially important in explaining the formation of elongated apatite crystals. The idea that a preassembling protein matrix serves as a template for the uniaxial growth of apatite crystals in enamel is finally challenged with the one based on co-assembly of the protein and the mineral phases.


This is a pre-copy-editing, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Journal of Biomimetics, Biomaterials, and Tissue Engineering, volume 8, in 2010 following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at DOI: 10.4028/


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