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In a combined retrospective and prospective study, human salivary glands were investigated after radiation treatment for head and neck cancers. The aim was to assess acinar cell loss and morphologic changes after radiation therapy and to determine whether irradiated salivary glands have regenerative potential. Irradiated human submandibular and parotid salivary glands were collected from 16 patients at a range of time intervals after completion of radiation therapy (RT). Control samples were collected from 14 patients who had not received radiation treatments. Tissue sections were analyzed using immunohistochemistry to stain for molecular markers. Human submandibular and parotid glands isolated less than 1 year after RT showed a near complete loss of acinar cells. However, acinar units expressing functional secretory markers were observed in all samples isolated at later intervals after RT. Significantly lower acinar cell numbers and increased fibrosis were found in glands treated with combined radiation and chemotherapy, in comparison to glands treated with RT alone. Irradiated samples showed increased staining for duct cell keratin markers, as well as many cells coexpressing acinar- and duct cell-specific markers, in comparison to nonirradiated control samples. After RT, acinar cell clusters are maintained in human submandibular glands for years. The surviving acinar cells retain proliferative potential, although significant regeneration does not occur. Persistent DNA damage, increased fibrosis, and altered cell identity suggest mechanisms that may impair regeneration. Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Martha E Luitje, Anna-Karoline Israel, Michael A Cummings, Ellen J Giampoli, Paul D Allen, Shawn D Newlands, Catherine E Ovitt. Long-Term Maintenance of Acinar Cells in Human Submandibular Glands After Radiation Therapy. International journal of radiation oncology, biology, physics. 2021 Mar 15;109(4):1028-1039

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PMID: 33181249

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