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Open Access Research article

Morphological and functional characteristics of human gingival junctional epithelium

Qian Jiang, Youcheng Yu*, Hong Ruan, Yin Luo and Xuehua Guo

Author Affiliations

Department of Stomatology, Zhongshan Hospital Fudan University, 180 Fenglin Road, Shanghai 200032, China

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BMC Oral Health 2014, 14:30  doi:10.1186/1472-6831-14-30

Published: 3 April 2014



This study aims to observe the morphological characteristics and identify the function characteristics of junctional epithelium (JE) tissues and cultured JE cells.


Paraffin sections of human molar or premolar on the gingival buccolingual side were prepared from 6 subjects. HE staining and image analysis were performed to measure and compare the morphological difference among JE, oral gingival epithelium (OGE) and sulcular epithelium (SE). Immunohistochemistry was applied to detect the expression pattern of cytokeratin 5/6, 7, 8/18, 10/13, 16, 17, 19, and 20 in JE, OGE and SE. On the other hand, primary human JE and OGE cells were cultured in vitro. Cell identify was confirmed by histology and immunohistochemistry. In a co-culture model, TEM was used to observe the attachment formation between JE cells and tooth surface.


Human JE was a unique tissue which was different from SE and OGE in morphology. Similarly, morphology of JE cells was also particular compared with OGE cells cultured in vitro. In addition, JE cells had a longer incubation period than OGE cells. Different expression of several CKs illustrated JE was in a characteristic of low differentiation and high regeneration. After being co-cultured for 14 d, multiple cell layers, basement membrane-like and hemidesmosome-like structures were appeared at the junction of JE cell membrane and tooth surface.


JE is a specially stratified epithelium with low differentiation and high regeneration ability in gingival tissue both in vivo and in vitro. In co-culture model, human JE cells can form basement membrane-like and hemidesmosome-like structures in about 2 weeks.

Junctional epithelium; Oral gingival epithelium; Cytokeratin; Immunohistochemistry; Co-culture