Single-cell RNA sequencing reveals PDGFRα+ stromal cell subpopulations that promote proacinar cell differentiation in embryonic salivary gland organoids

Development. 2022 Mar 15;149(6):dev200167. doi: 10.1242/dev.200167. Epub 2022 Mar 25.


Stromal cells can direct the differentiation of epithelial progenitor cells during organ development. Fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signaling is essential for submandibular salivary gland development. Through stromal fibroblast cells, FGF2 can indirectly regulate proacinar cell differentiation in organoids, but the mechanisms are not understood. We performed single-cell RNA-sequencing and identified multiple stromal cell subsets, including Pdgfra+ stromal subsets expressing both Fgf2 and Fgf10. When combined with epithelial progenitor cells in organoids, magnetic-activated cell-sorted PDGFRα+ cells promoted proacinar cell differentiation similarly to total stroma. Gene expression analysis revealed that FGF2 increased the expression of multiple stromal genes, including Bmp2 and Bmp7. Both BMP2 and BMP7 synergized with FGF2, stimulating proacinar cell differentiation but not branching. However, stromal cells grown without FGF2 did not support proacinar organoid differentiation and instead differentiated into myofibroblasts. In organoids, TGFβ1 treatment stimulated myofibroblast differentiation and inhibited the proacinar cell differentiation of epithelial progenitor cells. Conversely, FGF2 reversed the effects of TGFβ1. We also demonstrated that adult salivary stromal cells were FGF2 responsive and could promote proacinar cell differentiation. These FGF2 signaling pathways may have applications in future regenerative therapies.

Keywords: FGF2; Mouse organoid; Myofibroblast; PDGFRα; Stroma; Submandibular salivary gland.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2* / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Organoids*
  • Salivary Glands
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Stromal Cells / metabolism


  • Fibroblast Growth Factor 2