Rebuilding the salivary gland after radiation

January 12, 2017 by Christina Hueschen, University of California, San Francisco
A fluorescent marker was inserted into the genome of mouse salivary stem cells. Researchers were then able to label acinar cells in green and ductal cells, which channel saliva from the acinar cells into the mouse’s mouth, in pink. Credit: Noel Cruz-Pacheco

Patients who undergo radiation therapy for head and neck cancers often lose the ability to produce saliva because radiation destroys salivary glands that lie in the way of the tumor.

The damage to humans' glands is permanent, but another species has the ability to rebuild the organ within two weeks of an injury.

In experiments in mice, when radiation destroys saliva-producing structures called acini, the animals' stem cells divide and differentiate into acinar cells to rebuild the salivary gland.

Noel Cruz-Pacheco, MS, a staff research associate in UC San Francisco's Department of Cell and Tissue Biology, and his colleagues in the lab of Sarah Knox, PhD, want to know what triggers mouse salivary stem cells to repopulate acini.

To watch the repopulation process, Cruz-Pacheco inserted a fluorescent marker into the genome of salivary stem cells, visually labeling them and their progeny. This strategy, called lineage tracing, allows scientists to follow along as generations of a cellular family grow and spread across a tissue.

The resulting image shows a section of a healthy mouse salivary gland with acinar cells labeled in green. The same image has pink-labeled cells, which are ductal cells that channel saliva from the into the mouse's mouth.

Now that they can watch gland regeneration over time, the Knox lab is deciphering the signals that regulate regeneration. They found that after radiation, nerves in the mouse detect damage and activate specific stem cells to rebuild acini.

The Knox lab thinks that the critical difference between mice and humans is the loss of these pro-regeneration neuronal signals after radiation in humans. While human salivary stem cells exist, they aren't activated after radiation.

"Radiation destroys the communication between nerves and in human patients," Cruz-Pacheco said. "But what if we could learn from mice what signals to send?"

Cruz-Pacheco hopes that their research will one day enable the development of for gland regeneration in human patients.

Explore further: Scientists' silk structure is secret to process of regenerating salivary cells

Related Stories

Scientists' silk structure is secret to process of regenerating salivary cells

July 27, 2015
The silkworm, which produces the essential ingredient for fine silk fabric, also plays a critical role in a new process designed to provide relief for millions of individuals with dry mouth, a devastating oral and systemic ...

Partial restoration of irradiation-damaged salivary function following Shh gene delivery

March 17, 2016
Today at the 45th Annual Meeting & Exhibition of the American Association for Dental Research, researcher Fei Liu, Texas A&M Health Science Center, Temple, USA, will present a study titled "Partial Restoration of Irradiation-Damaged ...

Genetic factors control regenerative properties of blood-forming stem cells

December 5, 2016
Researchers from the UCLA Department of Medicine, Division of Hematology Oncology and the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA have published two studies that define how key ...

Researchers learn how to break a sweat

October 23, 2013
Without sweat, we would overheat and die. In a recent paper in the journal PLOS ONE, USC faculty member Krzysztof Kobielak and a team of researchers explored the ultimate origin of this sticky, stinky but vital substance—sweat ...

Ovary regeneration in salamanders could provide solutions to human infertility

November 7, 2016
Axolotl salamanders are extremely resilient, but very little research has been done on their incredible ability to regenerate internal organs and eggs—also called oocytes. In a study published in the journal Stem Cells, ...

Recommended for you

Space-like gravity weakens biochemical signals in muscle formation

May 23, 2018
Astronauts go through many physiological changes during their time in spaceflight, including lower muscle mass and slower muscle development. Similar symptoms can occur in the muscles of people on Earth's surface, too. In ...

Deep space radiation treatment reboots brain's immune system

May 21, 2018
Planning a trip to Mars? You'll want to remember your anti-radiation pills.

Hotter bodies fight infections and tumours better—researchers show how

May 21, 2018
The hotter our body temperature, the more our bodies speed up a key defence system that fights against tumours, wounds or infections, new research by a multidisciplinary team of mathematicians and biologists from the Universities ...

Receptor proteins that respond to nicotine may help fat cells burn energy

May 21, 2018
The same proteins that moderate nicotine dependence in the brain may be involved in regulating metabolism by acting directly on certain types of fat cells, new research from the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute ...

Atomic-level study reveals why rare disorder causes sudden paralysis

May 21, 2018
A rare genetic disorder in which people are suddenly overcome with profound muscle weakness is caused by a hole in a membrane protein that allows sodium ions to leak across cell membranes, researchers at the University of ...

New era for blood transfusions through genome sequencing

May 18, 2018
Most people are familiar with A, B, AB and O blood types, but there are hundreds of additional blood group "antigens" on red blood cells—substances that can trigger the body's immune response—that differ from person to ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.