Cellular and molecular diversity in Sjogren's syndrome salivary glands: Towards a better definition of disease subsets

Semin Immunol. 2021 Dec:58:101547. doi: 10.1016/j.smim.2021.101547. Epub 2021 Dec 4.


Primary Sjögren's syndrome (pSS) is a highly heterogeneous disease in terms of clinical presentation ranging from a mild disease localised to the salivary and lacrimal glands, to multiorgan complications of various degrees of severity, finishing with the evolution, in around 5% of pSS patients, to B cell lymphomas most commonly arising in the inflamed salivary glands. Currently, there are poor positive or negative predictors of disease evolution able to guide patient management and treatment at early stages of the diseases. Recent understanding of the pathogenic mechanisms driving immunopathology in pSS, particularly through histological and transcriptomic analysis of minor and parotid salivary gland (SG) biopsies, has highlighted a high degree of cellular and molecular heterogeneity of the inflammatory lesions but also allowed the identification of clusters of patients with similar underlying SG immunopathology. In particular, patients presenting with high degrees of B/T cell infiltration and the formation of ectopic lymphoid structures (ELS) in the SG have been associated, albeit with conflicting results, with higher degree of disease severity and enhanced risk of lymphoma evolution, suggesting that a dysregulated adaptive immune response plays a key role in driving disease manifestations in pSS. Recent data from randomised clinical trials with novel biological therapies in pSS have also highlighted the potential role of SG immunopathology and molecular pathology in stratifying patients for trial inclusion as well as assessing proof of mechanisms in longitudinal SG biopsies before and after treatment. Although significant progress has been made in the understanding of disease pathogenesis and heterogeneity through cellular and molecular SG pathology, further work is needed to validate their clinical utility in routine clinical settings and in randomised clinical trials.

Keywords: Autoimmunity; Ectopic germinal centres; MALT lymphoma; Salivary gland biopsies; Sjogren’s syndrome; T-follicular helper cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Humans
  • Salivary Glands / pathology
  • Sjogren's Syndrome* / complications
  • Sjogren's Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Sjogren's Syndrome* / genetics