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Intrinsically disordered proteins drive enamel formation via an evolutionarily conserved self-assembly motif


The formation of mineralized tissues is governed by extracellular matrix proteins that assemble into a 3D organic matrix directing the deposition of hydroxyapatite. Although the formation of bones and dentin depends on the self-assembly of type I collagen via the Gly-X-Y motif, the molecular mechanism by which enamel matrix proteins (EMPs) assemble into the organic matrix remains poorly understood. Here we identified a Y/F-x-x-Y/L/F-x-Y/F motif, evolutionarily conserved from the first tetrapods to man, that is crucial for higher order structure self-assembly of the key intrinsically disordered EMPs, ameloblastin and amelogenin. Using targeted mutations in mice and high-resolution imaging, we show that impairment of ameloblastin self-assembly causes disorganization of the enamel organic matrix and yields enamel with disordered hydroxyapatite crystallites. These findings define a paradigm for the molecular mechanism by which the EMPs self-assemble into supramolecular structures and demonstrate that this process is crucial for organization of the organic matrix and formation of properly structured enamel.

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