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New research could bring relief to patients with dry mouth

Dr. Douglas Darling, Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Craniofacial Biology at the University of Louisville. (DTI/Photo courtesy of University of Louisville)

Thu. 9 June 2011


LOUISVILLE, KY, USA: Researchers at the University of Louisville are currently working on a solution for patients whose salivary glands have been damaged or no longer function due to radiation therapy or prescription drugs. Prof. Douglas Darling and his team have identified a protein-sorting mechanism used by the salivary gland that could form the basis for advanced therapies.

Salivary glands are essential for lubrication, defence and beginning digestion in the mouth. The largest of the glands, the parotid, secretes important proteins into the saliva. As with all salivary glands, it has multiple secretion pathways and therefore must sort proteins destined for saliva into the correct pathway for secretion. This can be difficult, as there are seven possible pathways. One of these takes proteins to the salivary duct, others carry different proteins to the “back” of the cell to be secreted into the blood or to form a supportive matrix for the cells. Transport along these pathways occurs by sorting the proteins into vesicles (hollow membrane sacs), which carry their “cargo” to the correct destination.

Until now, it was believed that cargo proteins are moved into the forming vesicles by attaching to sorting receptor proteins. Prof. Darling and his team have discovered a completely new approach that suggests that salivary sorting receptor proteins may not exist.

The research has been published as Parotid secretory protein binds phosphatidylinositol (3,4) bisphosphate online in the Journal of Dental Research and was undertaken with support from the National Institutes of Health.

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