Salivary glands are responsible for maintaining the health of the oral cavity and are routinely damaged by therapeutic radiation for head and neck cancer as well as by autoimmune diseases such as Sjögren's syndrome. Regenerative approaches based on the reactivation of endogenous stem cells or the transplant of exogenous stem cells hold substantial promise in restoring the structure and function of these organs to improve patient quality of life. However, these approaches have been hampered by a lack of knowledge on the identity of salivary stem cell populations and their regulators. In this review we discuss our current knowledge on salivary stem cells and their regulators during organ development, homeostasis and regeneration. As increasing evidence in other systems suggests that progenitor cells may be a source of cancer, we also review whether these same salivary stem cells may also be cancer initiating cells.
- Adult Stem Cells/physiology
- Cell Differentiation/physiology
- Salivary Glands/cytology