Innervation and secretory function of transplanted human submandibular salivary glands

Gerd Geerling*, John R. Garrett, Katherine L. Paterson, Peter Sieg, J. Richard O Collin, Guy H. Carpenter, Samer G. Hakim, Isabel Lauer, Gordon B. Proctor

*Corresponding author for this work
37 Citations (Scopus)


Free submandibular gland autotransplantation is used to treat absolute tear deficiency. Although disconnected from any peripheral innervation, most transplants show increasing secretion for years. We have evaluated the secretory activity and autonomic innervation of such transplants. Secretory activity of glands in response to parasympatholytics and parasympathomimetics was evaluated by Schirmer's test and Technetium scintigraphy. Submandibular gland tissue specimens taken before and after transplantation were examined histologically. Relative hypersecretion during the first postoperative week suddenly decreased but then slowly increased during the first postoperative year. Hypersecretion was significantly reduced by parasympatholytics while carbachol rapidly increased secretion. Histology of transplanted glandular tissue showed parenchymal atrophy. Cholinesterase-positive nerves were abundant and in a similar distribution to normal with scattered positive ganglion cells. Adrenergic axons were fewer than normal and irregularly distributed. Early hypersecretion may be due to release of neurotransmitters from degenerating terminal axons. This is followed by a period of minimal secretion during which hypersensitivity of acinar cells develops. With spontaneous reinnervation, secretion is accentuated by external sympathetic vasomotor adrenergic drive. This shows that submandibular glands can remain viable despite complete separation from their normal nerve supply and are capable of regaining a substantial secretory activity for years.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)135-140
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 01.01.2008


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