Introduction to salivary glands: structure, function and embryonic development

Front Oral Biol. 2010;14:1-20. doi: 10.1159/000313703. Epub 2010 Apr 20.


Salivary glands are a group of organs secreting a watery substance that is of utmost importance for several physiological functions ranging from the protection of teeth and surrounding soft tissues to the lubrication of the oral cavity, which is crucial for speech and perception of food taste. Salivary glands are complex networks of hollow tubes and secretory units that are found in specific locations of the mouth and which, although architecturally similar, exhibit individual specificities according to their location. This chapter focuses on the embryonic development of vertebrate salivary glands, which has been classically studied in the mouse model system since the 1950s. We describe here where, when and how major salivary glands develop in the lower jaw of the mouse embryo. Key mechanisms involved in this process are discussed, including reciprocal tissue interactions between epithelial and mesenchymal cells, epithelial branching morphogenesis and coordinated cell death and cell proliferation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Mice
  • Models, Animal
  • Organogenesis / physiology
  • Saliva / physiology
  • Salivary Glands / anatomy & histology*
  • Salivary Glands / embryology
  • Salivary Glands / physiology
  • Vertebrates