Scientists discover a special cell in salivary glands that i
As the researchers described the new type of salivary gland cell called "ionocyte" that works to maintain healthy concentrations of charged molecules-; ions-; of potassium, calcium, chlorine, and other electrolytes in saliva. The scientists also found that this type of ionocyte secretes a key growth factor (fibroblast growth factor 10, or FGF10), suggesting that it has a further role in the repair of salivary glands after injury.

Among the products of this ionocyte, scientist observed, is the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator protein (CFTR). This protein is best known as the cause of the lung disease cystic fibrosis when it is absent in lungs through inherited mutation. However, it is also known to have an important role in salivary and tear glands, where its deficiency contributes to a common, inflammatory, dry-mouth/eye syndrome called Sjögren's syndrome. The identification of the cell type that produces CFTR in the adult salivary gland might thus lead to better therapies for this syndrome, the researchers said.

The researchers noted too that this newly identified ionocyte's FGF10-producing function makes it unique among ionocytes. The researchers now are following up with further studies, including in human cells. Their hope is that a better understanding of how these FGF10-making ionocytes work in the adult salivary gland will pave the way for effective therapies for conditions affecting salivary glands as well as tear glands, given the many similarities between the two.