Intraglandular mesenchymal stem cell treatment induces changes in the salivary proteome of irradiated patients

Commun Med (Lond). 2022 Dec 10;2(1):160. doi: 10.1038/s43856-022-00223-3.


Background: Hyposalivation and xerostomia (dry mouth), are the leading site-effects to treatment of head and neck cancer. Currently, there are no effective therapies to alleviate radiation-induced hyposalivation. Adipose tissue-derived mesenchymal stem/stromal cells (AT-MSCs) have shown potential for restoring salivary gland function. However, the mode of action is unknown. The purpose of the present study was therefore to characterize the effect of AT-MSC therapy on the salivary proteome in previously irradiated head and neck cancer patients.

Methods: Whole saliva was collected from patients with radiation-induced salivary gland hypofunction (n = 8) at baseline, and 120 days after AT-MSC treatment, and from healthy controls (n = 10). The salivary proteome was characterized with mass spectrometry based proteomics, and data was compared within the AT-MSC group (baseline versus day 120) and between AT-MSC group and healthy controls. Significance levels between groups were determined by using double-sided t-test, and visualized by means of principal component analysis, volcano plots and cluster analysis.

Results: Here we show that 140 human proteins are significantly differentially expressed in saliva from patients with radiation-induced hypofunction versus healthy controls. AT-MSC treatment induce a significant impact on the salivary proteome, as 99 proteins are differentially expressed at baseline vs. 120 days after treatment. However, AT-MSC treatment does not restore healthy conditions, as 212 proteins are significantly differentially expressed in saliva 120 days after AT-MSCs treatment, as compared to healthy controls.

Conclusion: The results indicate an increase in proteins related to tissue regeneration in AT-MSCs treated patients. Our study demonstrates the impact of AT-MSCs on the salivary proteome, thereby providing insight into the potential mode of action of this novel treatment approach.

Plain language summary

Currently, there are no effective treatments to ease dry mouth, which is a leading long-term side effect of radiation treatment for head and neck cancer. However, treatment with stem cells has shown potential for restoring function of the salivary glands, which are damaged due to radiation. We compared proteins in saliva of previously radiation-treated patients with healthy non-irradiated persons and found differences in the levels of 140 proteins. After stem cell treatment of irradiated patients, we found changes in the salivary content of proteins related to tissue regeneration. Our study demonstrates the impact of stem cell treatment on proteins in saliva, thereby providing insight into the potential mode of action of this treatment approach for patients with radiation-induced dry mouth. Consequently, this could potentially help to improve treatment of dry mouth in the future.