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New Cell Discovery Holds Promise for Salivary Gland Damage


Investigators at the Scripps Research Institute and National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research have found a new type of cell that is integral to salivary gland health. They report that ionocyte cells ensure beneficial levels of potassium, calcium and chlorine ions are available in saliva. These cells also secrete fibroblast growth factor 10 (FGF10), a protein that may help heal damaged salivary glands — a frequent side effect of cancer treatment. 

The study, “A Mesenchymal to Epithelial Switch in FGF10 Expression Specifies an Evolutionary-Conserved Population of Ionocytes in Salivary Glands,” appears in Cell Reports. Using a mouse model, the team first focused on FGF10, which is important for the early development of salivary glands and is suspected of supporting maintenance and repair. Using gene expression analysis, the researchers found that while mesenchymal cells produce FGF10 in developing mice, ionocytes eventually take over production. 

Among the products of ionocytes, they observed, is a regulator protein which, if deficient, contributes to Sjögren’s syndrome. An understanding of this relationship thus might lead to better therapies for this syndrome. Noting this newly identified ionocyte’s FGF10-producing function makes it unique among cells, the researchers are following up with additional studies in the hopes of discovering new treatments for salivary gland disorders. 

From Decisions in Dentistry. July 2022;8(7)8.

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