The ability to speak, swallow, masticate, taste food, and maintain a healthy oral cavity is heavily reliant on the presence of saliva, the hugely important effect of which on our everyday lives is often unappreciated. Hyposalivation, frequently experienced by people receiving radiation therapy for head and neck cancers, results in a plethora of symptoms whose combined effect can drastically reduce quality of life. Although artificial lubricants and drugs stimulating residual function are available to ameliorate the consequences of hyposalivation, their effects are at best transient. Such management techniques do not address the source of the problem: a lack of functional saliva-producing acinar cells, resulting from radiation-induced stem cell sterilization. Post-radiotherapy stimulation of cell proliferation only results in improved saliva secretion when part of the tissue has been spared or when the dose to the salivary gland (SG) remains below a certain level. Therefore, stem cell replacement therapy may be a good option to treat radiation-induced hyposalivation. Substantial progress has been made lately in the understanding of cell turnover in the SG, and the recent identification of stem and progenitor cell populations in the SG provides a basis for studies toward development of a stem cell-based therapy for xerostomia. Here, we review the current state of knowledge of SG stem cells and their potential for use in a cell-based therapy that may provide a more durable cure for hyposalivation.
Copyright © 2013 AlphaMed Press.