Nitric oxide (NO) is thought to play a pivotal regulatory role in dental pulp tissues under both physiological and pathological conditions. However, little is known about the NO functions in dental pulp stem cells (DPSCs). We examined the direct actions of a spontaneous NO gas-releasing donor, NOC-18, on the odontogenic capacity of rat DPSCs (rDPSCs). In the presence of NOC-18, rDPSCs were transformed into odontoblast-like cells with long cytoplasmic processes and a polarized nucleus. NOC-18 treatment increased alkaline phosphatase activity and enhanced dentin-like mineralized tissue formation and the expression levels of several odontoblast-specific genes, such as runt related factor 2, dentin matrix protein 1 and dentin sialophosphoprotein, in rDPSCs. In contrast, carboxy-PTIO, a NO scavenger, completely suppressed the odontogenic capacity of rDPSCs. This NO-promoted odontogenic differentiation was activated by tumor necrosis factor-NF-κB axis in rDPSCs. Further in vivo study demonstrated that NOC-18-application in a tooth cavity accelerated tertiary dentin formation, which was associated with early nitrotyrosine expression in the dental pulp tissues beneath the cavity. Taken together, the present findings indicate that exogenous NO directly induces the odontogenic capacity of rDPSCs, suggesting that NO donors might offer a novel host DPSC-targeting alternative to current pulp capping agents in endodontics.
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