The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
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Gene discovery may help prevent tooth loss in cats

Blocking role of gene prevents processes leading to tooth resorption.

Insights into a common, painful dental disease in cats could help inform treatments for the condition.

Research into tooth resorption – in which teeth gradually break down and are lost – has shown that blocking the action of a particular gene prevents the cell processes that lead to disease.

The findings, by researchers at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, could inform development of therapies for tooth resorption, for which there are currently no treatments other than extracting affected teeth.

Gene study

Damage on cat dental tissue.
Close-up showing damage to dental tissue.

Researchers at the School’s Preclinical Division sought to examine which genes might play a role in causing resorption, in the first study to examine the condition from this perspective.

Using samples of genetic material recovered from the teeth of 11 cats, with permission from the animals’ owners, vets identified more than 1,000 genes that had been active in teeth where resorption had occurred, and so might be involved in the process.

The team focused on one gene in particular, known as MMP9, which produces a protein that is commonly found in areas of damaged tissue.

In experiments using two different techniques to prevent activity in the gene, both approaches prevented biological processes associated with tooth resorption.

Their findings suggest that the MMP9 gene, and the protein which it generates, are involved in causing tooth resorption.

Existing therapies targeting this protein, for example in cancer treatment, may be effective in treating the condition.

The team hopes to study other genes of interest that may play a role in the condition.

They also suggest their finding may have implications in other aspects of health such as the role of MMP9 in bone diseases including cancer.

The study, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Fiona and Ian Russell Seed Corn Grant Fund, the Sym Charitable Trust and MSD Animal Health, was published in Scientific Reports.

This is a painful condition which affects virtually all mature cats, and currently there is no effective way to manage the disease other than removing affected teeth. By examining genes involved in the process it seem that if we stop the activity of the MMP9 gene, we may be able to prevent the condition from developing.

Dr Seungmee LeeRoyal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

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About the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies

The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence in clinical activity, teaching and research. Our purpose-built campus, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Pentland Hills Regional Park, is home to more than eight hundred staff and almost fourteen hundred students, all of whom contribute to our exceptional community ethos.

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We represent the largest concentration of animal science related expertise in Europe, impacting local, regional, national and international communities in terms of economic growth, the provision of clinical services and the advancement of scientific knowledge.

Image credit: Seungmee Lee