Martha J. Somerman, D.D.S, Ph.D.

Adjunct Investigator

Laboratory of Oral Connective Tissue Biology


Institute Director


Building 50, Room 4120
50 South Drive
Bethesda, MD 20814


Research Topics

The Laboratory of Oral Connective Tissue Biology studies the molecular biology of dental-oral-craniofacial development, with a focus on the periodontal complex. We aim to understand cells and signals influencing tooth, bone, and periodontal ligament development in order to identify improved regenerative strategies. A variety of approaches are taken, including in vitro cell and organ culture, transgenic animal models for studying gene function, in vivo models for studying periodontal repair and regeneration, and studies involving human subjects focusing on genetic disorders and pathologies affecting the dentoalveolar complex. These studies should provide greater insight on all hard and soft connective tissues, as well as help identify links between systemic conditions and the oral cavity.

Our lab's recent focus areas have been:

  1. Role of phosphate and pyrophosphate metabolism in physiology and pathology of the dentoalveolar complex
  2. Role of extracellular matrix proteins and signaling molecules in development of the tooth root and differentiation of associated cell types
  3. Novel approaches for periodontal regeneration


Martha J. Somerman, D.D.S., Ph.D., has been director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) since August 2011. Prior to becoming NIDCR director, Dr. Somerman was dean of the University of Washington School of Dentistry, a position she had held since 2002. Before joining the University of Washington, Dr. Somerman was on the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry from 1991 to 2002. There, she served as a professor and chair of periodontics/prevention and geriatrics, and also held an appointment as professor of pharmacology at the School of Medicine. From 1984 to 1991, Dr. Somerman was on the faculty of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery. 
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Dr. Somerman received a bachelor’s degree in biology and a D.D.S. from New York University, a master’s degree in environmental health from Hunter College, and a Ph.D. in pharmacology from the University of Rochester. She completed her periodontal residency at the Eastman Dental Center in Rochester, New York.
Dr. Somerman has been a longstanding member of the NIH and NIDCR communities, having received her first NIH grant in 1987. In the early 1980s, she was a staff fellow in the dental institute’s intramural research program. She served on the National Advisory Dental and Craniofacial Research Council from 1999 to 2002.
Dr. Somerman's research focuses on defining the key regulators controlling the development, maintenance and regeneration of tissues that form the dental-oral-craniofacial complex. In addition, she studies the required cells, genes and factors, and scaffolds needed to rebuild periodontal structures lost through disease.

Selected Publications

  1. Thumbigere-Math V, Foster BL, Bachu M, Yoshii H, Brooks SR, Coulter A, Chavez MB, Togi S, Neely AL, Deng Z, Mansky KC, Ozato K, Somerman MJ. Inactivating Mutation in IRF8 Promotes Osteoclast Transcriptional Programs and Increases Susceptibility to Tooth Root Resorption. J Bone Miner Res. 2019;34(6):1155-1168.

  2. Thumbigere-Math V, Alqadi A, Chalmers NI, Chavez MB, Chu EY, Collins MT, Ferreira CR, FitzGerald K, Gafni RI, Gahl WA, Hsu KS, Ramnitz MS, Somerman MJ, Ziegler SG, Foster BL. Hypercementosis Associated with ENPP1 Mutations and GACI. J Dent Res. 2018;97(4):432-441.

  3. Wolf M, Ao M, Chavez MB, Kolli TN, Thumbigere-Math V, Becker K, Chu EY, Jäger A, Somerman MJ, Foster BL. Reduced Orthodontic Tooth Movement in Enpp1 Mutant Mice with Hypercementosis. J Dent Res. 2018;97(8):937-945.

  4. Foster BL, Ao M, Salmon CR, Chavez MB, Kolli TN, Tran AB, Chu EY, Kantovitz KR, Yadav M, Narisawa S, Millán JL, Nociti FH Jr, Somerman MJ. Osteopontin regulates dentin and alveolar bone development and mineralization. Bone. 2018;107:196-207.

  5. Thumbigere Math V, Rebouças P, Giovani PA, Puppin-Rontani RM, Casarin R, Martins L, Wang L, Krzewski K, Introne WJ, Somerman MJ, Nociti FH Jr, Kantovitz KR. Periodontitis in Chédiak-Higashi Syndrome: An Altered Immunoinflammatory Response. JDR Clin Trans Res. 2018;3(1):35-46.

This page was last updated on August 7th, 2019