Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Evolutionary Biology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Research article

Molecular evolution of dentin phosphoprotein among toothed and toothless animals

Dianalee A McKnight and Larry W Fisher*

Author Affiliations

Craniofacial and Skeletal Diseases Branch, NIDCR, NIH, DHHS, Bethesda MD 20892 USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:299  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-299

Published: 23 December 2009



Dentin sialophosphoprotein (DSPP) is the largest member of the SIBLING family and is the most abundant noncollagenous protein in dentin. DSPP is also expressed in non-mineralized tissues including metabolically active ductal epithelia and some cancers. Its function, however, is poorly defined. The carboxy-terminal fragment, dentin phosphoprotein (DPP) is encoded predominantly by a large repetitive domain that requires separate cloning/sequencing reactions and is, therefore, often incomplete in genomic databases. Comparison of DPP sequences from at least one member of each major branch in the mammalian evolutionary tree (including some "toothless" mammals) as well as one reptile and bird may help delineate its possible functions in both dentin and ductal epithelia.


The BMP1-cleavage and translation-termination domains were sufficiently conserved to permit amplification/cloning/sequencing of most species' DPP. While the integrin-binding domain, RGD, was present in about half of species, only vestigial remnants of this tripeptide were identified in the others. The number of tandem repeats of the nominal SerSerAsp phosphorylation motif in toothed mammals (including baleen whale and platypus which lack teeth as adults), ranged from ~75 (elephant) to >230 (human). These repeats were not perfect, however, and patterns of intervening sequences highlight the rapidity of changes among even closely related species. Two toothless anteater species have evolved different sets of nonsense mutations shortly after their BMP1 motifs suggesting that while cleavage may be important for DSPP processing in other tissues, the DPP domain itself may be required only in dentin. The lizard DSPP had an intact BMP1 site, a remnant RGD motif, as well as a distinctly different Ser/Asp-rich domain compared to mammals.


The DPP domain of DSPP was found to change dramatically within mammals and was lost in two truly toothless animals. The defining aspect of DPP, the long repeating phosphorylation domain, apparently undergoes frequent slip replication and recombination events that rapidly change specific patterns but not its overall biochemical character in toothed animals. Species may have to co-evolve protein processing mechanisms, however, to handle increased lengths of DSP repeats. While the RGD domain is lost in many species, some evolutionary pressure to maintain integrin binding can be observed.