A connectivity mapping approach predicted acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) to induce osteo/odontogenic differentiation of dental pulp cells

R. Rankin, F. T. Lundy, B. C. Schock, S. D. Zhang, B. Al-Natour, I. About, C. Irwin, G. J. Linden, I. A. El-Karim

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Aim: To use connectivity mapping, a bioinformatics approach, to identify compounds that could induce odontogenic differentiation of dental pulp cells (DPCs) and to experimentally validate this effect. A subsidiary aim was to investigate the anti-inflammatory effect of any identified compound. Methodology: The Gene Expression Omnibus (GEO) database was searched for microarray data sets assessing odontogenic differentiation of human DPCs. An odontogenic gene expression signature was generated by differential expression analysis. The statistical significant connectivity map (ssCMap) method was used to identify compounds with a highly correlating gene expression pattern. DPCs were treated with the compound identified, and osteo/odontogenic differentiation was assessed by Alizarin red staining, alkaline phosphatase activity and expression of osteo/odontogenic genes ALPL, RUNX2, COL1A1, DSPP, DMP1 and SPP1 by RT-PCR. The anti-inflammatory effect of the compound was assessed using an ex vivo pulpitis model, and cytokine levels were measured with multiplex assay. Means were compared using the t-test or ANOVA followed by a Bonferroni post hoc test with the level of significance set at P ≤ 0.05. Results: The GEO database search identified a specific gene expression signature for osteo/odontogenic differentiation. Analysis using ssCMap found that acetylsalicylic acid [(ASA)/aspirin] was the drug with the strongest correlation with that gene signature. The treatment of DPCs with 0.05 mmol L−1 ASA showed increased alkaline phosphatase activity (P < 0.001), mineralization (P < 0.05), and increased the expression of the osteo/odontogenic genes, DMP1 and DSPP (P < 0.05). Low concentration (0.05 mmol L−1) ASA reduced inflammatory cytokines IL-6 (P < 0.001), CCL21 (P < 0.05) and MMP-9 (P < 0.05) in an ex vivo pulpitis model. Conclusions: Connectivity mapping, a web-based informatics method, was successfully used to identify aspirin as a candidate drug that could modulate the differentiation of DPCs. Aspirin was shown to induce odontogenic differentiation in DPCs in vitro and this, together with its anti-inflammatory effects, makes it a potential candidate for vital pulp therapies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)834-845
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Endodontic Journal
Issue number6
Early online date13 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 30 Jun 2020


  • aspirin
  • connectivity mapping
  • odontogenic differentiation
  • pulp capping
  • pulpitis


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